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Man charged with weapons offense a day after shooting at VA hospital in Chicago

Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in Chicago, Ill. (Google Maps/Released)

A 40-year-old man is facing a federal gun charge after prosecutors said he fired several shots outside a Veterans Affairs hospital on Chicago’s Near West Side before walking into the building with the rifle, sending patients and staff frantically running for cover.

Bernard Harvey, of Indianapolis, was charged with one count of illegally possessing a firearm as a convicted felon in a criminal complaint filed Tuesday, one day after the chaotic scene unfolded at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center at 820 S. Damen Ave.

Harvey appeared at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse on Tuesday afternoon and will remain jailed at least until a detention hearing Friday.

No one was injured in the shooting.

Chicago police officers first began receiving 911 calls just before 2:30 p.m. Monday reporting that a man was shooting a firearm near the southeast corner of the hospital, according to the criminal complaint.

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A witness told police he saw the man, later identified as Harvey, walking west on Taylor Street firing the rifle, the complaint said. The witness saw Harvey walk into the hospital after someone in a car unsuccessfully tried to stop him.

Video surveillance showed Harvey enter the hospital at the Taylor Street entrance, according to the complaint.

Veterans Affairs police officers stationed at the hospital quickly responded and found Harvey walking around a clinic area of the hospital holding the butt of his rifle in the air and its muzzle pointed to the floor, the complaint said.

The officers ordered him to drop the rifle, according to the charges. He complied and then dropped to the floor himself on orders of the officers, the complaint said. He was then placed under arrest. Officers seized the rifle, which was reported stolen last month in Indiana.

“We avoided tragedy here in the city of Chicago today,” Jeffrey Sallet, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Chicago office, told reporters after the incident Monday.

Officers found six casings outside the hospital near the Taylor Street entrance as well as two bullet holes in the building, one in the ceiling and the other in the entrance door, the complaint said.

Inside the hospital, people were running and screaming, some taking shelter in bathrooms, witnesses told reporters Monday. The building was evacuated as police began investigating.

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“I was trying to get out the way,” Army veteran Aaron Cannon Jr. told the Tribune on Monday. “I didn’t want to be in the line of fire. I already experienced that.”

The area is also home to Stroger Hospital and the University of Illinois at Chicago’s medical school.

Federal agents took custody of Harvey from Chicago police officers Monday evening, and he was taken to the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago, according to a federal prosecutor.

At Harvey’s initial appearance Tuesday afternoon, U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Cox questioned if Harvey was able to understand the proceedings as she read him his rights.

At one point, the judge asked Harvey to confirm his name and birth date, but Harvey, speaking softly, was unable to give his age.

“Do either of you have any doubts about Mr. Harvey’s competency this afternoon?” Cox asked the prosecutor and Harvey’s court-appointed attorney.

His attorney, Santino Coleman, an assistant federal defender, said he had been trying to reach Harvey’s family and planned to look into his mental health.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Corey Rubenstein said reports from the Illinois Department of Corrections indicate Harvey had spent time in psychiatric care but said it was “too early to weigh in on (mental) competency.”

Harvey faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

He was previously sentenced to four years in prison for a 2005 felony conviction in Cook County for being a felon in possession of a handgun, records show. He also served time in prison for a felony drug conviction in 2000.

The gun incident is at least the second at the hospital. In 2009, a man fired a shot in the VA hospital and barricaded himself there during a seven-hour standoff after police said he killed his parents at their West Side home.

Nine months ago, a shooting at Mercy Hospital & Medical Center left dead three people in addition to the gunman.

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© 2019 the Chicago Tribune