Like many people in Spokane County and throughout the nation, Roger Knight was “dumbfounded” when he learned that a schizophrenic killer had escaped while on field trip to the Spokane County Interstate Fair.
The Spokane Valley Police detective had even more cause than most people to be dismayed that Phillip A. Paul was at large once again. It was Knight who brought Paul in after he escaped his Eastern State Hospital handlers the first time in 1990.
Knight, 53, will never forget that encounter because Paul attacked him during booking at the Spokane County Jail and threw him to the floor, shattering the deputy’s shoulder.
When the call came in Thursday afternoon that Paul was loose again, Knight was one of two detectives in the office and available to take the case.
“Are you kidding me,” Knight thought. “This guy was supposed to be at Eastern under some kind of supervision, and they had him at the fair with a back pack, which they didn’t know what was in it.”
The resulting four-day manhunt by dozens of officers from several city, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies ended late Sunday afternoon when Knight and two other Spokane Valley detectives captured Paul in a remote and desolate area of Klickitat County.
Paul, now 47, had been committed to Eastern State Hospital after being found not guilty by reason of insanity in the 1987 killing of Ruth Mottley, a 78-year-old retired Sunnyside school teacher.
Paul, who had spent time out at the Carlyle Care Center in downtown Spokane on conditional release, had been returned to Eastern State Hospital confinement in January because he began resisting taking the drugs that keep his paranoid schizophrenia at bay.
Earlier this month a Yakima County judge ruled that Paul continued to pose a threat to public safety. Nevertheless, he was one of 31 patients from the hospital’s forensic ward who were taken on an outing to the fair on Thursday.
Eastern State Hospital administrators have come under criticism for allowing Paul on the outing and for waiting two hours after his disappearance before notifying authorities.
Paul was returned to 24-hour observation Eastern State Hospital on Monday morning after a court hearing in Yakima County. He will not face charges in the escape, according to Susan Dreyfus, secretary of the state Department of Social and Health Services.
As of Thursday, Dreyfus said, DSHS has put a halt to group outings for all patients at both Eastern State and Western State hospitals pending a review of the incident.
“We have the opportunity to learn from it and change with changing times with regard to forensic patients and security issues,” she said.
Dr. John Chiles, University of Washington psychiatrist, will head the review team at the request of Richard Kellogg, DSHS director of mental health services, Dreyfus said.
Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich has said that the state can expect a bill for the cost of tracking down Paul once it is tallied.
“I appreciate the incredible cost incurred,” Dreyfus said. “The sheriff has every right to send such a bill, but we are sitting on the same deficit and budget problems as local government.”
On Monday, Knight discussed the detective work that led to Paul’s capture.
The break came when Spokane Valley Detective Darin Schaum made contact with a friend of Paul’s who said he did not know Paul was a fugitive when he drove him to a remote area between Bickleton and Goldendale in southern Washington state on Thursday.
The friend, whose identity was being withheld, said Paul had told him months ago that he was due to be released from the mental hospital in Medical Lake in 120 days. The friend reportedly did not see news accounts of the manhunt until he returned from the trip.
After interviewing the friend some time on Saturday, the search was focused on the rural area where Paul once hunted as a youth. The property owner knew the area known as Harrison Canyon and helped directed law enforcement to the area.
On Sunday morning, law enforcement began scouring a vast area of wilderness aided by two airplanes and the Spokane County sheriff’s helicopter, equipped with forward-looking infrared radar.
Late in the afternoon, Knight phoned headquarters that he had all but given up hope of finding the fugitive in the rugged terrain.
“We called back and said, ‘This is huge. There’s no way we are going to catch this guy.’”
Spokane Valley detectives Knight, Bill Beeman and Mark Renz, driving an unmarked minivan, were told to return to the command post in Goldendale when they noticed a man near the road. It was the only person they had seen all day during their search.
“We thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if …,’” Knight said.
It turned out to be Paul, who was tired and dehydrated to point that he had taken to drinking his own urine. Knight said the fugitive believed doing so would counter the affects of the antipsychotic medication he had been taking before his escape.
Paul told the detectives he was “done,” and he was far beyond recognizing the deputy he had attacked nearly 19 years earlier, Knight recalled. He also believed he was being tracked with satellites from space.
The detectives radioed back to headquarters that they had captured Paul. He was found with a leather jacket, bed roll, backpack, guitar, flashlight, some pieces of canvas for drawing and a hand scythe.
Some time later, while the detectives waited for other law enforcement to arrive at the scene of the capture, a car drove up. In it were Paul’s brother, Bruce Paul, and Bruce’s wife. They had been told that the search would focus on Paul’s old stomping grounds and came upon the exact sight of the capture at just the right moment, Knight said.
The brothers had a chance to talk before Phillip Paul was taken away.
The detective said he bears no animosity toward Paul.
“You can’t help but have some sympathy for him,” Knight said. “What are the chances I would be in the group that found him?”
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