Portland police say elaborate planning and collaboration with mental health professionals led to peaceful resolution with armed man

From the Oregonian, September 28, 2011

A paranoid and delusional man who had 14 guns and 2,000 rounds of ammunition in his Southwest Portland apartment peacefully surrendered to law enforcement early Thursday after a six-hour stand off with police.

John Losley Griffin

John Losley Griffin

John L. Griffin, 50, was arrested around 12:30 a.m. for unlawful use of a weapon and menacing, and is undergoing mental health evaluation and treatment.

Portland police said the peaceful resolution followed elaborate planning and collaboration between police, Griffin’s family, and mental health professionals.

“We have a mental health crisis in our community,” said Bob Day, commander of the bureau’s Central Precinct. “It’s a sign of our times and what we are dealing with. The role of law enforcement is changing. Social disorder issues now fall to police, and we are the first responders.”

Dealing with the mentally ill has been a challenge for the bureau and a source of controversy. The federal Justice Department has launched an investigation to see whether Portland police have used excessive force, particularly against people with mental illness, following a spike in police shootings the past 20 months.

Police were first called to Griffin’s apartment complex at 1631 S.W. Yamhill St. late last week.

Rod Hoover, 36, said he called 9-1-1 Sept. 21 after Griffin knocked on his door. When Hoover answered, he saw Griffin wearing “full body armor,” with a shotgun in one hand and rifle in the other. Griffin then asked Hoover “if we knew we were under siege.”

By the time police arrived, Griffin had returned to his unit and refused repeated requests to come out. Since no crime had been committed, Day said, police could take no action.

On Tuesday, police were once more called to the complex. This time Griffin, wearing a gas mask and bullet-proof vest, was yelling and screaming out his window. Again, he refused to come out of his unit.

Day, meanwhile, instructed Sgt. Jeff Niiya to research Griffin’s background so officers would know who they were dealing with.

Niiya tracked down Griffin’s mother and girlfriend, and learned he’d been having problems. His girlfriend told police she moved out because Griffin was loading and unloading his weapons. She did know how many weapons he owned.

Neighbors said Griffin appeared to go downhill in recent weeks, and seemed to be having delusions. Before that, Hoover said, Griffin was “normally a gruff old guy.”

Niiya talked to Officer Herb Miller, a member of the bureau’s Mobile Crisis Unit that deals with the mentally ill. Miller works closely with Cindy Hackett, a mental health clinician with Portland’s Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare.

Officials laid out the case for a judge Wednesday and were given a mental health hold to place on Griffin. That meant officers could take him into custody and send him to Cascadia, where Hackett had reserved a space for him.

Officers, meantime, kept an eye on Griffin’s third-floor apartment, which has windows facing the street.

Undercover officers stationed in the Chapman Court Apartments had the manager call Griffin and ask him to come to the office. They were hoping to get him out of his unit so he could be taken into custody.

Griffin refused and hung up. Miller then scouted the complex so officers would know the layout should they be faced with forcing Griffin from his apartment.

Police continued to monitor the situation, planning to bring Griffin’s girlfriend to the apartment complex Thursday and have her call Griffin to lure him out of the unit.

But then Griffin forced police to act when he leaned out of a window around 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, pointed a rifle at a neighbor in the apartment courtyard and threatened to hurt people.

Miller hustled to the scene where he shared information with officers. At that point, commanders decided to call out a tactical team. Portland’s team is in training, so the Washington County team was called in and complex residents were evacuated.

Day said all the background work done earlier in the week helped negotiators deal with Griffin. He said officers knew it would be hard to gain his trust.

Griffin repeatedly hung up on the negotiator, but then he abruptly agreed to come out.

“I’m thankful it worked out the way it did,” Day said. “Given that he was delusional and agitated I thought it would end up in a confrontation. This is the way it should work all the time. But given our resources and time, we can’t do this every time someone is in crisis. What we don’t want to do as police is force the issue.”