The man in Room 220 of the Multnomah County Courthouse reminds me of Bruce Willis in Die Hard. He's about 35, white, dressed in a thick navy coat with a high collar, and his hair is closely cropped.
When police brought "Willis" to Emanuel Hospital five days earlier, he was agitated, disorientated, and delusional, telling a doctor he thought the ER machines were weapons. He'd been sleeping on the streets for several weeks, and had lost a considerable amount of weight since his last arrest at the end of 2007, based on the booking photo I can see being waved around by his parole officer—who should probably be a little more discreet with it.
Because of his behavior, the doctor had placed an initial "hold" on the man, committing him to Emanuel's psych ward. Now, the district attorney's job is to prove Willis is a danger to himself or others, and to keep him there at the psych ward—even though it's against the man's will.
The county's mental health investigator met Willis in his quiet room at Emanuel. According to the investigator, he was difficult to redirect, loud, diverting, tangential, and was demanding, "Where's my fucking cigarettes? Why am I in here?"
The issue is that the man's belligerent behavior could also be consistent with somebody who wasn't mentally ill, but had been held against their will in a psychiatric hospital for a few days. Just as Bruce Willis is angry in Die Hard because Alan Rickman is holding his wife and an office party hostage, irrational behavior at civil commitment hearings sometimes has a rational cause: frustration with the mental health system.
The hearing could go either way. Willis has shown up at his family's house over recent weeks with a heavily bleeding face and, according to his family, has threatened suicide if they won't help. He's also come into contact with a cop, following an alleged altercation at a Shell gas station where his face was also covered in blood, according to the officer, who testifies at the hearing.
As the county mental health examiner questions Willis, he tells her he has recently fallen into the Willamette River. He's unspecific about how or why—he says "a wave came over" him while he was sitting on a pier. Then he says that someone may have pushed him.
These incidents are weird, but not sufficient in and of themselves to prove the nexus between the person's mental disorder and his imminent danger to himself or others. It's not the court's role to take good care of the person, only to ensure he isn't dangerous or in imminent danger.
In Willis' case, the court decides to commit him not only based on the evidence presented, but on the manner of his conduct in the courtroom. After demanding water repeatedly he left the room to pee, only to return with the following statement:
"Okay. I'm going to lay it out for you. I work for the FBI. I do pedestrian reconnaissance. You can contact the Senators Binder and Binder, they represent me."
The court examiners say they believe the man is in the manic phase of bipolar disorder, and that his grandiose delusions are consistent with such a diagnosis. They say the disorder's symptoms are likely to put him "up in people's faces," hence the evidence of possible fights having taken place, and that it's unlikely, if released, he can care for himself. It's also likely, the judge agrees, that he will end up in a dangerous altercation if he is released.
"I hope you rot in hell you cock-sucking whore," the man shouts defiantly at the judge as he's led off following her ruling. He may be mentally ill, but I'm impressed with his independent streak. It may say more about my own authority issues, but I can't help thinking: "Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker."
I stop just short of yelling it out.