Mental hold failed to deter suspect

Originally published August 7, 2003 in the News-Register.

By Erin Rook, the News-Register

As early as July 21, police suspected Jason Walker’s access to firearms presented a threat to himself or others and temporarily took the distraught 23-year-old into custody to seek a mental health assessment.

It wasn’t until the early morning hours of July 28, however, that their suspicions were confirmed.

By that time, Walker allegedly had sexually assaulted his ex-girlfriend and was holding her hostage at gunpoint. A male visitor also was taken hostage, but he managed to escape and alert authorities. Several teams of officers responded, including a SWAT unit from the Oregon State Police.

Eventually, Walker released the woman and surrendered, following two hours of intense negotiations – but not before firing a shot into the floor from a .357 magnum handgun to show police he was serious.

In an ill-fated attempt to get security raised from $600,000 to $1 million, Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Easterday on Wednesday cited information about police contact with Walker a week before the incident on Northeast 27th Street.

Under state statute, an officer may take someone into custody if he has probable cause to believe that person is “dangerous to himself or to any other person” and needs “immediate care, custody or treatment for mental illness.”

Termed a “peace officer’s hold,” the process requires that the officer take the subject to a physician for an immediate examination.

Easterday said a hold placed on Walker the previous week involved a gun. She provided no other details.

By statute, the physician who saw Walker had three options: admit him to a hospital, admit him to an emergency care or treatment program, or let him go.

While it’s unclear what specific course of action was taken, by Walker’s own account he was back on the street – and able to purchase a gun – by the day of the alleged crime.

Walker bought the Smith & Wesson used in the attack the day of the confrontation with his former girlfriend, records show.

According to police records, Walker was suicidal when he showed up on his ex-girlfriend’s doorstep. But his intentions changed when he spotted a familiar vehicle in the parking lot – one belonging to 21-year-old McMinnville High School graduate Steven Kuhn.

Instead of turning the gun on himself, he turned it on Kuhn and the woman.

Suicide experts said the function of the brain that controls violent impulses toward one’s self is the same that controls violent behavior toward others.

Jeff Victoroff, a neuropsychiatry expert at the University of Southern California, couldn’t speak directly to the Walker case, but said both suicide and violence toward others are associated with reduced levels of serotonin in the brain.

“For some people, particularly for a guy, a drop in serotonin also precipitates a loss of restraint on any kind if impulsive aggression,” Victoroff said. “There isn’t a whole lot of difference in the temporal sequence of a person who shoots his wife and then kills himself as police are closing in, and a guy who wants to kill himself and then turns his impulsive aggression toward his girlfriend.”

According to a police report, Walker entered the apartment brandishing the weapon and made the woman tie up Kuhn with electrical cord.

Walker allegedly took the woman into a bedroom, where he sexually assaulted her.

Walker had threatened to kill the woman if Kuhn moved, according to the report, but the hostage worked himself free, fled the apartment and called 911 from a neighbor’s home.

Officers began arriving about 1:30 a.m. Walker surrendered about 3:30 a.m.

Walker is being held in the Yamhill County Jail on 12 counts – four counts of first-degree kidnapping, two counts of unlawful use of a weapon, two counts of menacing, one count each of first-degree burglary, rape and sodomy, and one count of criminal mischief.

A defense motion for discovery in the case is expected today.

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