Family of Aloha man killed by deputies speaks of his struggle with alcoholism, depression

From the Oregonian, July 30, 2012

“Get off the property,” Jeffery David Anderson told his wife, Susan. Moments later, he fired his .22-caliber rifle toward the sky. Then again.

Susan Anderson was familiar with her husband’s erratic behavior. She had moved in with a friend for a few days after arguing with him, but, needing clothing, returned July 7 to the Aloha home the couple had shared for 30 years. Faced with another argument and the gun, she left.

An hour later, Jeffery David Anderson, 56, lay dying in the street, shot by Washington County sheriff”s deputies. Neighbors and deputies say Anderson had walked along Southwest 195th Avenue near his home, pointing his loaded rifle at passing vehicles, and ultimately at deputies.

His death, which came a few hours later at OHSU Hospital, is the latest chapter in a series of shootings by police agencies responding to mental health-related calls in the Portland metropolitan area.

For example, Washington County sheriff’s deputies in June fatally shot Robert Kimball Fox, 52, of Aloha, who authorities say was suicidal and had pointed a loaded rifle at deputies. Portland police officers in January fatally shot Brad Lee Morgan, 21, who officials said was threatening to jump off a downtown parking structure and eventually pointed a fake gun at officers.

Authorities responding to mental health-related calls — especially when weapons are introduced — must make split-second decisions in unpredictable scenarios, said Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett. Police can’t dodge bullets and de-escalate a situation simultaneously, he said.

“When you introduce a gun or weapon, that changes everything,” he said.

Jeffery Anderson was a severely depressed alcoholic who began pulling away from his wife and family during the past year. Susan Anderson described a pattern of unpredictable behavior. One moment, he apologized for his drinking. The next, he was angry.

His family struggled to deal with a husband, father, brother, who was spiraling into deeper depression and alcoholism. They loved him, but they didn’t know when or how to help. Now, his family says, they are stuck with a stark truth: It’s too late.

The night of the shooting, Susan Anderson sat in a detective’s car as she learned what happened to her husband.

“Never in my whole marriage would I have thought that…,” the 55-year-old later said, failing to complete the sentence as she started to cry. “Something in him snapped.”

For more than 15 years, Jeffery Anderson cleaned up spilled lunches and mopped floors as a custodian at Hillsboro’s Minter Bridge Elementary School. At his funeral, members of the school’s staff presented the family with a scrapbook of photographs and notes on colored paper about his helpfulness and warm personality.

The couple married 35 years ago, moving into their Aloha home five years later. They had two daughters, Sarah and Stephanie. Jeffery Anderson’s relationship with them, his wife said, could be rocky.

He loved to play with his five grandchildren, who knew him as “papa.” His sister, Kathy Milberger, 50, described her brother as a protector, and five years ago, she moved to Beaverton to be closer to him.

He enjoyed camping, trips to the coast and listening to music, especially Bob Marley. He wrote poetry.

He was a talker, but, at the same time, a loner. He pinched pennies and was a pack rat, stashing away belongings for years.

“It was hard for him to let go of things,” his wife said.

Sensitive and patriotic, Jeffery Anderson was deeply troubled by the state of America, what he saw as societal values in decline as banks and big business were on the rise. He sobbed when the first troops were killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“He needed to push it away,” Susan Anderson said. “He didn’t like to hear about all the people dying all the time.”

He talked about the issues so much, she said, “It got to where I couldn’t listen anymore.”

In the past year, Jeffery Anderson’s drinking noticeably increased. He’d have beers at home in the evening, growing more and more depressed.

For at least a year, he was prescribed an anti-depressant, citalopram, but in the months before the shooting, he wasn’t taking it consistently.

“I always thought he’d snap out of it,” Susan Anderson said. “But he didn’t.”

She thinks her husband purchased the rifle about a year ago. Leading up to the shooting, Jeffery Anderson mentioned the weapon more frequently. He bragged about the gun, talked about how it worked and his need to protect his property.

Yet Susan Anderson never felt afraid. “I guess I should have been,” she said.

“He was dwelling on everything negative,” she said, growing emotional. “Instead of being grateful for how good our lives are.”

Milberger said her brother would sometimes mention suicide, but never talked specifically about hurting himself.

“He felt as if he was going to die young,” she said.

Two days before his death, Jeffery Anderson left work early and went home. When one of his daughters stopped by that day, he was intoxicated, his wife said. He behaved strangely, showing his firearm to his grandchildren.

“Something’s wrong with papa,” the children told their mother.

At home, his daughter reflected on her dad’s behavior, and called police to have deputies check on him. The sheriff’s office said deputies on July 5 responded to a report that Jeffery Anderson was suicidal.

Deputies talked with Anderson at his home and took him to a hospital for further treatment. Susan Anderson said she wasn’t aware of her husband making any suicidal statements.

Jeffery Anderson was taken to Providence St. Vincent Medical Center, where he was evaluated and released four hours later, his wife said. Federal privacy laws prohibit the hospital from releasing when he was admitted and discharged, or the reasons for his release, according to a hospital spokeswoman.

After his release, Anderson was angry that police were called and he had been hospitalized.

That anger bled into the next days. On July 6, Susan Anderson tried calling him; he didn’t answer the phone. Milberger stopped by to check on her brother. She knocked. Nothing. She called. No answer.

She tried the door, and it was unlocked, she said. She found Jeffery Anderson asleep in bed.

Susan Anderson went to her home the next day, July 7. She tried to calm him down. “I kept saying Jeff, honey, I didn’t call the police,” she said.

Later that night, when she learned her husband had been shot and wounded, Susan Anderson broke down inside the detective’s car. Initially, authorities told her they thought Jeffery Anderson would make it, then they told her he had died.

Milberger interprets her brother’s actions that day as suicide by cop.

His wife and sister aren’t mad or bitter toward deputies. They hurt because they know that day changed everyone involved. Jeffery Anderson is gone. Life won’t be the same for his survivors or for the deputies who shot him.

They wanted to help their brother and husband. They wish the hospital had kept him longer. They wish they could have forced him to get help.

They were planning an intervention, but the fear that he would become enraged kept them from reaching out.

“Never wait that long,” Milberger said. “You need to catch something, intervene way sooner than we did.”