PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — In the past week, the Portland area has seen multiple high-profile crimes tying back to possible mental illness, from the Portland Korean Church arson to an attack on a MAX platform.
Professionals say it’s further proof there’s a lot of work to be done when it comes to access to treatment.
Just one day after a historic downtown church was burned, a suspect came forward claiming the crime. According to court documents, 27-year-old Cameron David Storer, who also goes by Nicolette Fait, walked into the Multnomah Co. Detention Center Wednesday and admitted to setting the fire, telling officials they heard voices in their head that they would be harmed if they didn’t burn the church down, adding they take 10 Oxycontin each day and have a history of schizophrenia.
That revelation could handle how Storer’s arson and burglary case is handled if they’re not found fit for trial.
“In the event they are found able to aid and assist, able to proceed, the criminal proceedings go as they normally would,” said Elisabeth Shepard with the Multnomah Co. District Attorney’s Office. “In the event they are found unable to proceed, unfit, they will be referred by the courts to mental health treatment of some nature. Depending on the severity of the crimes, something like an assault II, like what we saw over the week, or arson, another recent example, those would be a level of severity that would place that individual most certainly at the Oregon State Hospital, where other charges may have a range of mental health services available to them.”
The Portland Korean Church arson case comes after a number of high-profile cases linking back to possible mental illness in the past week, according to the DA’s office. Last week, Brianna Workman was accused of pushing a 3-year-old child, unprovoked, off the Gateway MAX platform onto the train tracks. Earlier this week, Koryn Kraemer was accused of attacking a 78-year-old man on a MAX platform in Gresham, chewing off his ear and part of his face until his skull was exposed.
In all of these cases, the DA’s office requested they be held without bail until trial, but when it comes to a competency determination where they may not be able to stand trial, the referred treatment could depend on how serious the crime is.
“There are a few different ways that determination is made,” said Shepard. “A valid measure arson, for example, that would land you at a maximum (of) one year at the Oregon State Hospital.”
Jason Renaud works with the Mental Health Association of Portland and says the state has a history of mental illness and addiction prevalence with low access to treatment services. As for those who do receive court-ordered mental treatment, Renaud says it often isn’t enough to fully treat them.
“Most people who don’t get access to treatment, don’t have access to recovery from these addictions, do not get better on their own. Their life does not get better, it does not go into some magical remission,” said Renaud. “Those persons are restored to competency levels sufficient only to try them. They’re not brought back to health. They’re not brought back to wellness. There’s no long-term plan for these people. It’s simply to operate within the judicial process so they can be said to have had a just trial.”
He adds that while criminal cases are a small portion of mental illness, it’s still a problem that will only be fixed with time and money, beefing up mental health services and staffing throughout Oregon.
“Oregon spent as little as legally possible on mental illness and drug addiction for over 100 years and we are suffering the results of that. We have a really damaged infrastructure. We have a very weak workforce. We’re short thousands and thousands of workers in this field. It’s going to take a long time and a lot of money to come back from this. The penalty is the person in the middle,” said Renaud. “We now have some support from the Oregon State Legislature, we’ve had some good sessions, the legislature provided some funds, now time for policy persons and providers to put those into action.”
The arson suspect is being held without bail and has a detention hearing call scheduled for Friday, with an arraignment set for next week.