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HODGENVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky State Police are investigating the death of a Hodgenville man shot by a police officer. Friends and neighbors say they think the situation could have been avoided.
KSP Trooper Jeff Gregory says two officers were attempting to serve an arrest warrant on Benjamin Burba for charges of disorderly conduct and criminal trespassing on Sunday morning around 2 a.m. Neighbors say what happened after that was very shocking.
"That's pretty much all I heard was the gunfire," said neighbor Matthew Bennett.
Bennett said he awoke to see an officer standing up near Burba after he heard those gunshots. Police say Burba got into an altercation with the two Hodgenville officers who then attempted to tase him. They say he pulled out an air rifle and that's when the officer shot him.
Burba was taken to Hardin Memorial Hospital where he later died. Hardin Co. Deputy Coroner Pat Elmore says the 59-year-old died of multiple gunshot wounds, though he would not say where Burba was shot.
Officials say he had been released from jail on Friday on charges of disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and criminal trespassing. Friends say he had a history of mental illness, but they had been trying to get him help. In 2012, he pleaded guilty to harassment and menacing.
"I just know when he was in jail that they had to have known he was a troubled man and he needed help not bullets," said Bennett.
Bro. Charles Wilson of the Larue County Church of Christ says he believed the situation could have been avoided and described Burba as a popular member of his church. Wilson said he believed the situation could happen again to someone else who might slip through the cracks.
Rosanna Williams, manager of Ruthie's Lincoln Freeze, says she had been trying to get Burba help for weeks to no avail. Williams says she feels like there were not enough resources to help Burba, who could not help himself.
"It makes me feel like we are living in a wicked society where people would turn their backs on somebody who is mentally ill," Williams said.
Williams called Burba a friend and said she fed him catfish and roast beef sandwiches at the restaurant down the street from his home. She described him as "harmless" even though she admitted some customers were a little bit intimidated by him.
"I could tell when he went off his meds," Williams said.
Williams said she witnessed Burba get tased by police on Oct. 9 when he was at her restaurant. The restaurant manager said she was going to be out of town and told her employees to call police if they became uncomfortable around him while she was gone.
"I could handle him," Williams said.
Williams said she noticed that Burba had gone off of his medication a couple of weeks ago and had been acting differently, so she wanted to make sure she was there if he came around. After an incident at the IGA Express across the street, Williams said Burba ended up on her restaurant on Oct. 9. She said even though she had requested Burba not come to the restaurant, she felt police unnecessarily tased the 59-year-old.
According to the citation filed by Hodgenville Police, employees and the owner advised that they wanted Burba to leave the property earlier in the week. Police say Burba was causing a scene and "scaring customers." The citation states Burba was sitting at a table when the officer asked him to leave three times to which Burba did not react.
The officer then says Burba started yelling, refused to leave the restaurant and resisted arrest by jerking away when he attempted to place handcuffs on him. After this, the officer states he tased him, drug him out on the floor and put him in handcuffs.
Williams, who witnessed the entire event, said she felt the amount of force used was unnecessary. Hodgenville Police officials say they have had a lot of run-ins with Burba in the past. Police Chief Steven Johnson said he attempted to get help for Burba, but he refused treatment.
Johnson says in order to arrest someone with a Mental Inquest Warrant, certain criteria had to be met. Johnson says they attempted to get him help through the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, but Burba did not state to law enforcement or mental health professionals that he was a danger to himself or others. Johnson said in order to be able to legally help Burba, he would have had to make those statements to law enforcement.
Sheila Schuster of the Kentucky Mental Health Coalition said patients have to meet four criteria in order to be brought in against their will. She said a person had to have a mental illness diagnosis and present a danger to themselves or others. Schuster also said medical professionals have to believe the individual would benefit from treatment and that treatment had to be the least restrictive way to help the person.
Williams, Bennett and Wilson all said they did not believe the situation had to end in death.
"He slipped through the cracks," said Williams.
Johnson said the Hodgenville officer has been placed on paid administrative leave during the investigation. Wilson said community members will hold a memorial service for Burba on Sunday, Oct. 20 at 3 p.m. at the Larue County Church of Christ.