Son Who Fell “Through the Cracks” Ends Up Shot

From The Oregonian, April 14, 1994

Doris H. Finney walked barefoot out her front door and gingerly avoided stray glass from the Monday shooting at her hillside home with a living room view of East Portland.

Her son, Todd K. Calhoun, 34, was in critical condition Wednesday in University Hospital with gunshot wounds he suffered during a confrontation with police.

The day after the shooting, Finney called a psychiatrist who had treated Calhoun in the past with a simple plea.

“Please get him help. Why did you let him fall through the cracks, to let him get shot? He’s been ill for years.”

For Finney and police, Monday’s shooting raised the issue again of armed confrontations between the city’s mentally ill population and police.

“We’ve got to look at these kinds of issues and evaluate how we’re dealing with our mentally ill population, especially violent, mentally ill people,” said Lt. C.W. Jensen, spokesman for the Portland Police Bureau.

Police went to Finney’s home after neighbors called 9-1-1 because Calhoun was firing a gun on the front lawn of their house in the 1500 block of Southeast 74th Avenue.

According to Jensen, police surrounded the tidy ranch-style home and ordered Calhoun to drop the gun. Calhoun cursed the police, called them “pigs” and came outside holding a silver revolver. He fired at least one shot, and three officers returned fire, wounding him.

“It could have been a worse situation, with a dead neighbor, a dead police officer, or he might have been killed,” Jensen said.

The three police officers involved in the shooting of Calhoun were Erin Anderson, 25, a four-year Portland Police Bureau veteran; Jimmy Lee, 28, a three-year veteran; and Steven Swan, 38, a 13-year veteran.

The officers have been placed on administrative leave, a routine action taken in incidents involving bureau personnel.

The police, meanwhile, are wondering why Calhoun was on the streets.

According to police, Calhoun was stopped in an area known for drug dealing last July where they seized a loaded .38-caliber handgun from him. He was cited for unlawful possession of a weapon, but the charge was dropped when the officer did not return phone calls to the district attorney’s office.

In addition, he has arrests for aggravated assault and drunken driving. On Aug. 12 he was sentenced to serve 30 days at the Justice Center Jail for drunken driving, according to jail records.

But on Jan. 26 police put a psychiatric hold on Calhoun after a hit-and-run accident. Witnesses gave police a license number that led them to Calhoun’s home.

As police were on their way to Calhoun’s home, he tried to get guns out of a locked cabinet “to shoot pursuing officers,” the report said. In addition, police said he concealed a serrated bread knife that a companion said he was going to use to stab police.

The officer who signed the psychiatric hold on Calhoun believed Calhoun was “homicidal-suicidal.” A person can be held for up to five days on a psychiatric hold.

Multnomah County mental health investigators determine whether someone who is on a psychiatric hold should be involuntarily committed, but officials with the program would not comment about Calhoun’s case, citing patient confidentiality.

Bill Toomey, supervisor of the involuntary commitment program, said investigators have to prove before a judge that a person is mentally ill or dangerous, a sometimes legally daunting task.

“It’s fairly difficult to prove someone is dangerous,” Toomey said. And in other cases, a person who is mentally ill gets well while he’s being held. Or if they have been drinking, they sober up and their “mental illness” clears.

Last year there were more than 3,200 psychiatric holds. Of those cases, 20 percent went on to an involuntary commitment hearing, Toomey said.

But the mental health system is also strapped for cash and beds. At times, the 65 secure psychiatric beds available for police holds in the Portland area are filled on weekends.

“There is definite pressure to move people out, if possible, so someone who is sicker can be moved in,” said Rex Surface, program manager for Multnomah County mental health. “Things like this could happen no matter how many resources we have, but we are a stressed system.”

Finney said she pleaded with hospital officials not to release her son from the secure psychiatric unit.

“I begged them, `Please, see that he gets help,’ ” she said. Instead, she was called a few days later to pick him up.

She said her son has been under psychiatric care in the past and was diagnosed as a manic-depressive while he was held in the Justice Center jail.

“They just decided he was a drunk. He’s so much more than a drunk it’s pitiful. He only drinks to kill the pain he’s in. He wants to die,” Finney said sobbing. “He hates to live.”

If Calhoun survives, he will face charges of attempted aggravated murder and may find himself paralyzed from the waist down. Finney said her son asked her Wednesday, ” `Mother, how am I going to go to prison in a wheelchair?’ ”