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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Man Killed Needed Medication, Friends Say

Stabbing: They say medicine would have calmed mentally ill Ojai resident, whom police shot to death after he injured hospital workers.

October 03, 2000|DAVID KELLY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A mentally ill man who stabbed three Community Memorial Hospital employees before being shot dead by police was described by friends Monday as "tightly wound" and "apt to go off" when he didn't take his medication.

And on Saturday, just hours before the attack and shooting, 48-year-old Jonathan Wesley Baker didn't take his medication, friends said.

"He left his medications behind, and they kept him calm," said Bernard Anderson, who lives at the El Camino Hotel in Ojai, where Baker had been staying. "He was emotionally strained. He was apt to go off from time to time."

Officials at the Ventura County Medical Center say Baker had been admitted to their locked psychiatric unit last April for a 72-hour period of intense treatment. Dr. Richard Ashby, medical director at the hospital, would not say what symptoms Baker exhibited.

"The most difficult people, the most problematic people, are in there," Ashby said.

Baker had also been arrested on suspicion of drug possession last April, but Ventura police wouldn't say what drugs.

Those who knew Baker described him as slightly built and disheveled. One hotel resident who lived a few doors down was more blunt: "He looked like a bum."

But a close friend and former roommate who asked not to be identified said Baker was a former mechanic who stayed in shelters from time to time. He had a history of depression, paranoia and suicidal thoughts, his friend said.

"He was a good person," he said. "He would never have attacked anyone if he didn't feel threatened."

Ventura police say they are looking into the possibility that this was a "suicide by cop," meaning a person does something with the intention of being shot by police.

"It's premature to say that right now," said police spokesman Lt. Carl Handy. "But he did attack the officers with a knife."

Baker's last day began Saturday when he headed down to the Star Market in Ojai for a jug of water.

"He didn't take his medication in his fanny pack," the friend said. "He guards it like the gold in Fort Knox, but this time he forgot it."

For some reason, Baker decided to take a bus to Ventura County Medical Center. Anderson said Baker wanted to get a tetanus shot for an abscess he had developed in his mouth.

Ashby said Baker stopped in.

"He came in to get treatment, but left before our physician got to meet him," Ashby said. "He was very calm. He didn't want psychiatric help."

Baker walked down the street to Community Memorial and entered the emergency room about 10 p.m. Hospital security asked if he needed help. Police said Baker then punched one of the guards and stabbed him in the neck with a 2-inch pocketknife, before stabbing the other guard in the stomach. The hospital employee was stabbed and got a cut on his head. All were treated and released.

The two security guards were identified as 55-year-old James Politano of Camarillo and 41-year-old Jeff Bifano of Oxnard. The hospital employee was Jaime Cadant, 59, of Oxnard.

Police said they opened fire because Baker showed no signs of halting the attack after they used sandbag and rubber projectiles to stop him.

"Neither [nonlethal weapon] was effective in subduing the suspect, who approached and threatened the officers with the knife," Handy said. "As a result of those threats, he was shot one time and taken into custody."

"Our staff performed in an exemplary fashion," said Michael Bakst, executive director of Community Memorial. Bakst denied reports that Baker had been in the hospital's emergency room twice in the past week.

"My records do not show that," he said. "The fact is, this guy was here in November 1999 for foot pain."

Bakst said he did not plan to beef up security or have security officers carry guns.

"Armed security sends the wrong message," he said. "I've been here for 21 years, and this is the first time something like this has happened. I think this is just a rare occurrence."

Before moving to the El Camino, Baker lived in a room in Meiners Oaks, but was evicted when the family sold the house, his friends said. County officials said he had an ex-wife in Fresno and two daughters in Southern California.

In his paranoid moments, friends said, Baker would say that he knew who killed Teamsters union boss Jimmy Hoffa and that they were out to get him as well.

"When he got depressed, he got extremely depressed. To get him to respond, I'd have to call him three times, and then he would only answer to his last name," said his friend. "I'd have to yell 'Baker!' and then he'd look up. His moods would go up and down so drastically."

On a number of previous occasions in Ventura County, law enforcement personnel have killed mentally ill people. In 1998, Ventura County sheriff's deputies shot dead three mentally ill suspects. A state grant was later obtained to help train officers on how to handle the mentally disturbed.

In 1997, Ventura police shot and killed 29-year-old Anthony Ramos, a mentally ill man, during a scuffle on the street.

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