A Metro article yesterday incorrectly characterized admissions policies at the psychiatric unit of Greater Laurel-Beltsville Hospital. Because the hospital does not have a locked ward, it rarely accepts people committed on an emergency basis by the police. (Published 8/2/90)

A Laurel man who walked away from a hospital where he was being treated after a suicide attempt was shot and killed by Prince George's County police early yesterday morning after he pointed a gun at the officers, authorities said.

Four Prince George's County officers shot Donald E. Hinton, 37, about 4 a.m. yesterday after Hinton refused to drop a .38-caliber revolver, police spokesman Chuck Cooke said. Hinton was struck numerous times, police said.

Seven hours earlier Hinton had been taken by police to the Greater Laurel-Beltsville Hospital for an emergency psychiatric commitment after he ingested more than 30 Valium tablets during a suicide attempt, said authorities and Hinton's estranged wife, Debra Hinton.

Hinton, a part owner of a vending machine company, had been depressed over the breakup of his marriage and had been threatening suicide for a month, Debra Hinton said.

Donald Hinton left the hospital about 2 a.m. and told his wife upon returning to her home that he escaped after a hospital staff member removed his handcuffs and Hinton unlocked the shackles on his feet, Debra Hinton said.

Darcy Nelson, a hospital spokeswoman, said that Hinton "left the hospital against medical advice," but declined to say whether he had been there on a psychiatric commitment.

Nelson said that because the hospital doesn't have a locked ward, it rarely accepts psychiatric patients. When it does, the patients are kept under restraint and only until they can be transferred, she said.

Nelson declined to discuss Hinton's case further, citing state rules on patient confidentiality.

However, Cpl. Bruce Elliott, a police spokesman, said that officers obtained an emergency commitment and that the hospital accepted custody of Hinton.

The shooting culminated a two-hour ordeal during which police twice were called to the Hinton home in the Kimberly Garden complex in 8900 block of Cherry Lane.

Debra Hinton said that, after returning from the hospital, her husband took his gun and began threatening to kill himself. He fled from the house and apparently was returning when police arrived for the last time, Debra Hinton said.

Debra Hinton said her husband was crawling under a chain-link fence and that she was trying to talk him into surrendering when officers rounded the corner of the house. She said in the next moments of confusion, officers yelled at her to run and she did. She said she did not hear police orders to Hinton to drop his weapon; nor, she said, did she see him when he was shot.

Police said that Hinton was standing at the time he was shot.

"The police jumped out and yelled to me to run," Hinton said. "As I turned, I saw the blue smoke from the officers' guns."

John Laird, a neighbor, said he overheard Donald Hinton say shortly before police arrived that he intended to kill himself and anyone who tried to stop him. Laird said that Hinton's threats were reported to police by neighbors.

"Don said that he was going to make someone shoot him," said Laird. "He said if anyone came near him, he would shoot them."

Donald E. Hinton Sr. said his son was not a violent person. "The only person he hurt in his life was himself," he said.

The four officers -- Sgt. John D. Henegar, Cpl. Roger D. Burgess, Cpl. Paul B. Robertson and Pvt. Kenneth Scott -- fired simultaneously and several times, police said. They have been placed on routine administraive leave with pay pending the outcome of the investigation, police said.

"It only takes a split second for an armed man to fire on the officer or a civilian and kill him," said Lt. Mark Wright. "The officer responding has only a split second to decide what to do."