Killing of Worker Raises Questions of Gun Ownership Among Residents of Long-term Care Facilities

Nancy Grover

Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – The recent shooting death at a Colorado assisted living facility generated questions and comments about whether people living in them are allowed to have guns. It turns out, there is no clear-cut answer. Some states have specific laws, while most leave it up to each facility to decide.

The Story

Last month, a 95-year-old resident of Legacy Assisted Living in Lafayette, Colo., admitted he shot maintenance worker Ricardo Medina-Rojas point blank in the head. Payne would later tell police he believed staff members at the facility had been stealing from him in the more than two years he had been living there. While Medina-Rojas was not his original target, Payne said he confronted the worker about money he believed had been stolen from him.

“Okey said Ricardo ‘mumbled something,’ and Okey pointed the gun at Ricardo’s head and shot Ricardo in the head,’” according to court records that quote the interviewing officer. “Okey told me he ‘blew Ricardo away.’ Okey stated that it was too bad he had to ‘waste’ him (Ricardo) but he’s hoping that if something good comes from all this is that the stealing will stop. Okey then walked back to his room and waited for the police.”

One comment suggested Payne likely had dementia and should have been housed in a memory care unit where guns, perhaps, would not be allowed. Despite Payne’s belief that staff members were stealing from him and drugging him — based on his assertion that he often woke up with needle marks on his big toe, the police interviewer did not believe Payne to have cognitive impairment.

“Throughout the hours this affiant spent interviewing Okey, this affiant observed that Okey was clear-headed, lucid, and he provided detailed information regarding this incident,” the court records show. “Okey was orientated to date and time and at no point did Okey appear confused or unable to comprehend questions or our conversation. Okey had difficulty hearing, but we were able to communicate through written questions and verbal answers.”

Are Guns Allowed

The question of whether to allow guns in long-term care residences is tricky, especially for independent and assisted living facilities. Both provide residents with their own apartments or rooms, along with common areas. Assisted living facilities go further and offer services such as meals, housekeeping and laundry, as well as help with personal care and medications.

In response to questions about the allowance or prohibition of guns in long-term care facilities, LeadingAge issued a FAQ. According to Weapons Policies in Aging Services Organizations, facilities can decide their own policies.

“The 2nd Amendment specifies that ‘the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.’ The amendment applies to governments, not individuals or private entities,” it explains. “Therefore, a private business is not covered by the 2nd Amendment, and can institute a weapons policy. That policy can, in most cases, include a ban on weapons in a senior living community or on a campus.”

One state, California requires assisted living communities that do allow guns on their premises to have them centrally stored, unloaded, in a locked gun safe. The law, signed in 2019 also says the ammunition must be locked in a separate location. The law, however, does not specify if or when long-term care facilities may or may not allow weapons.

While there are no specific laws in Colorado as to whether guns are allowed or prohibited in assisted living facilities, operators there often have policies prohibiting them. However, even where guns are banned, it would be difficult if not impossible for staff members to determine that a resident was keeping a gun, without violating his privacy. Such policies can be effective, however, in that once identified, a resident who is hiding a gun can be booted out of the facility.

Where’d He Get the Gun

Legacy Assisted Living has a no-gun policy, per the resident handbook. Payne had been made aware of it.

“Okey told me during the interview, he had previously been told by staff that he cannot have a gun in the facility. Staff members had taken his .22 caliber rifle and a Beretta handgun from his room and put it inside his storage container, which is located at a separate storage facility in Boulder,” according to court records. “Okey explained the .45 caliber ACP (automatic colt pistol) was from World War 1, when his father carried it. Okey’s father left him the .45 caliber and he has had it since he was 23 years old.”

Payne has been formally charged with first degree murder and two counts of menacing with a weapon. He has a preliminary hearing May 5 to determine if there is enough evidence for a trial.

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