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November 15, 2012

Police blame mental health system for violent encounter

SALEM — A violent incident Wednesday night could have been life threatening, according to Deputy police Chief Shawn Patten.

No one was injured, but Patten said yesterday he believes it just a matter of time before Thomas J. Burke, 30, does hurt someone.

“He is a clear danger to the community and to his family,” Patten said.

And he puts some of the blame on the state’s mental health system.

Burke is no stranger to police. Patten said he has been arrested more than a dozen times over the last 14 years. He also has been involuntarily committed to the state hospital for psychiatric reasons, most recently in mid-October, according to Patten.

Police were not notified of his subsequent release from New Hampshire Hospital and Patten sees that as a problem.

Just before 9:15 Wednesday night, police received a 911 call from Burke’s father, from the family home on Loren Road.

He told police his son was “out of control” and smashing things, Patten said.

When the first officer arrived on the scene, Burke came out of the house with a large kitchen knife. He ran at police, Patten said, threatening to “cut them up.”

Burke stopped as several more officers arrived at the scene and ordered him to drop the knife. Burke refused and continued to threaten police.

At that point, Sgt. Jason Smith deployed a bean-bag shotgun, Patten said. Burke dropped the knife, dropped to his knees and was taken into custody without further incident.

He is now in the county jail, held on lack of $50,000 cash bail. Burke is charged with three felony counts of criminal threatening, a felony charge of reckless conduct, resisting arrest and criminal mischief.

But Patten doesn’t see an endpoint.

“We’ve had over 40 contacts with him over eight to 10 years,” he said yesterday. “In our opinion, the mental health system in the state of New Hampshire is failing him.”

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