Opinion by David Romphrey, published in the Salem Statesman Journal, July 19, 2008
David Romprey of Salem is the coordinator of Oregon Peer Bridgers Project at Oregon State Hospital. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Marion County District Attorney Walt Beglau has his hands full this week.
Two young men with mental illnesses have affected his watch for public safety, with both tragic and frightening outcomes all around. One is dead after a use of deadly force by a Silverton police officer and one endangered the safety of Salem residents, state hospital staffers and police too.
Andrew James Hanlon, 20, a resident of Ireland, was said to have bouts of paranoia and delusion in recent months. Michael Sands, 27, a resident of the Oregon State Hospital, escaped from a locked ward and reportedly carjacked a vehicle, assaulted an officer, resisted a police dog and finally was subdued by the electric shock of a Taser. What is, really, public safety when both of these stories are brought into the same discussion?
Mr. Beglau should have our full support. His job this summer is not easy. The use-of-deadly-force investigation now in full swing begs him to consider the safety of persons who are experiencing psychotic symptoms from tragic ends involving police. Mr. Beglau also serves on the state’s Psychiatric Security Review Board Community Siting Task Force, which deals with the hard planning of group homes for forensic patients.
How Sands and other dangerous persons do not get out of the hospital, while those who have demonstrated mental stability and personal responsibility in managing their illnesses do come into an improving array of supports to be restored to life in the community, are the very conundrums that nonetheless fuel the the kind of tenacious — if thankless — leadership we expect D.A. Beglau to muster on our behalf. I wish him well.