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The Plaza Vieja man who was shot by Flagstaff police officers Friday night was showing signs of dementia or other memory problems and had recently been having delusions, according to the man’s neighbors. He was elderly and in failing health.

The man, identified by police as John Hamilton, 78, was shot by police officers around 9 p.m. as he was standing near his truck, steps away from his apartment on the 700 block of West Coconino Avenue. Police said he was waving and pointing a gun, and after failing to comply for several minutes with orders by police to drop the weapon, officers Daniel Beckwith and Travis Rowden opened fire.

After CPR failed to revive him, Hamilton was pronounced dead on scene.

Before he was shot, Hamilton was holding a small pistol, though his hand was not on the trigger, said Eric Garrison, who lives in the apartment next door and watched the incident from his window. The man also was flipping off police officers, Garrison said.

A female police officer repeatedly told Hamilton to drop whatever he had in his hand before police fired shots, said Richard Hall, another resident of the apartment complex, who said he heard the altercation from inside his apartment. Residents described hearing between four and six shots.

Erik Rothrock, who lives across from the suspect, said Hamilton had been having delusions about his truck keys, sometimes believing Rothrock had taken his keys.

Rothrock described the car key fixation as “lunacy” and an “obsessive compulsion about something.”

On Saturday morning, Rothrock pointed out bullet holes in the side mirror of Hamilton’s blue pickup truck and in the car parked beside it. Keys that were lying on the vehicle’s front seat were those to the pickup, Rothrock said.

Rothrock said he and the apartment’s property manager had been paying visits to Hamilton and had been thinking about asking for him to receive a government welfare checkup.

Hamilton was “amazingly frail” and could barely walk, Rothrock said. He said that as far as he knew, Hamilton’s only family member lived in Kingman.

Alexis Green, another resident of the apartment complex, said she had given Hamilton a ride to the property manager’s office last week after he had locked himself out of his apartment. Green said she could tell he had “Alzheimer's or something.”

Police responded to the apartment complex on West Coconino Avenue just before 9 p.m. Friday after a woman contacted the police department and said she had been confronted by a man with a firearm. Residents interviewed Saturday morning didn’t know who the woman could have been.

No officers or other bystanders were injured in the incident. Beckwith and Rowden have been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of this investigation, which is standard protocol in these kinds of incidents. It is actively being investigated by the Northern Arizona Officer Involved Shoot Team.

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Emery Cowan can be reached at (928) 556-2250 or ecowan@azdailysun.com

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Environment, Health and Science Reporter

Emery Cowan writes about science, health and the environment for the Arizona Daily Sun, covering everything from forest restoration to endangered species recovery efforts.

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