News: Shooting victim was mentally ill transient
The identity of the homeless man shot in front of Portland's premier department store two days before Christmas has been released. Michael Egan, who assaulted his alleged killer, is said to have been mentally ill. His assailant, Vincent Stemle, Jr., is also said to have been emotionally disturbed and violent. The Oregonian reports.
Portland police Friday confirmed the identity of the man killed in a downtown shooting as a 41-year-old transient. Michael Egan was shot about 8:15 a.m. Thursday at the bus mall in front of the Meier & Frank store near Southwest Fifth Avenue and Morrison Street as commuters and shoppers hurried about.
Stemle's former landlord said he complained of neighbors making noise purposely to upset him, and, eventually assaulted one of them. She evicted him from the single room occupancy building as a result. She blames the shooting on the lack of psychiatric help for people in the city.
Thursday's shooting, she said, "is about two mentally ill people who weren't getting help."
According to an affidavit filed with Stemle's arrest, police had tried to get Egan committed for mental health treatment at the end of November. He was not committed because a judge determined he didn't pose a danger to himself or others at that time.
Egan had been taken into custody after randomly hitting strangers in the downtown area. He allegedly punched Stemle, knocking off his hat and glasses, before being shot.
The landlord's analysis of the situation seems to be accurate to me. Both Egan and Stemle are the kind of people we city dwellers observe all too often. The person may be verbally abusing bystanders, or hitting someone. I've also observed the animals that panhandlers increasingly adopt being beaten by some of them. On Friday, I watched a man harangue, kick and shove a bicycle. We avert our eyes and cross the street. In most cases, these people continue their downward spiral until they die of natural causes or substance abuse. But, Egan and Stemle found each other. Each apparently had a predisposition toward delusion and violence that determined the outcome of their encounter. Egan hit strangers for no reason. Stemle believed people were messing with his mind and had armed himself.
Since both men were transients, I expect nothing will become of this episode. Officials and the public will assure themselves that the shooting would not have happened to a normal person. But, that isn't true. The victim and alleged perpetrator did particularly push each other's buttons. But, based on what is known of Stemle, anyone he perceived as meaning him harm could have been the victim. Egan? His pattern of assaulting strangers would have resulted in significant injury of someone eventually.
This episode is a reminder that the services provided to the chronically mentally ill are insufficient. A room in an SRO and a hot meal at a soup kitchen are not enough to impact the degree of dysfunction people like Egan and Stemle suffer from. Direct intervention, including mental health treatment, perhaps commitment, is necessary to make a difference. The rule for commitment -- the person must be a danger to himself or others -- is too often used as a shield by a legal system that knows there are not enough openings in mental health wards of the city's hospitals. However, obviously, their misuse of the law exacerbates the problem. The solution is to provide treatment, not to send dangerous people back to the streets after their bizarre behavior has attracted notice.