Susan Morisette calls it “the mental-health revolving door.” For the past decade, her 29-year-old son has been caught in a cycle: He goes to jail, gets stable with medication and services, then deteriorates again.
“It’s hard to get my hopes up when he’s doing well because I know it’s not going to last,” said Morisette, 55, of Bellingham.
A King County District Court judge on Wednesday found probable cause to hold Morisette’s son, Christopher Morisette, on three counts of felony assault for allegedly stabbing three strangers on Sixth Avenue, between Olive Way and Pine Street, Tuesday morning in what Seattle police characterized as an unprovoked, random attack. His bail was set at $750,000 and prosecutors are expected to file criminal charges Thursday.
For years, Seattle police and the city’s political leaders have introduced initiatives that aim to combat crime and keep the peace in a downtown core where homeless, drug-addicted and mentally ill people mingle with thousands of office workers, commuters, and tourists who flood the area daily.
Police can’t predict and prevent random acts of violence, like Tuesday’s stabbings, Seattle City Councilmember M. Lorena González said after a public-safety committee meeting on Wednesday. But the city needs to find a way to deal with repeat offenders, she said.
“The city is aware and has been aware for many years that we have to have a clear set of strategies around how to address people who continue to repeatedly cycle in and out of our criminal justice system,” she said. “What we are currently doing now is not working and we need to do something different.”
Across the city, overall crime is down 11% so far this year compared to 2018, with violent crime down 2% and property crime down 12%, according to police data. Even downtown, crime is down despite the area’s growing population density, Assistant Seattle Police Chief Eric Greening said after the same meeting.
However, the Pike-Pine corridor, which includes the block where the stabbings occurred, “has always been a challenge,” he said.
“We want to make sure we have appropriate staffing numbers so that we can hopefully, through presence, deter that and also be able to quickly respond to it, like we did yesterday,” said Greening.
Stabbing on Sixth
At 10:06 a.m. Tuesday, officers were dispatched to a report that a man wearing a green shirt and blue jeans had stabbed two people, according to the probable cause statement outlining the police case against Morisette. As the first officers arrived at the scene, they received a report that a third victim had been stabbed, it says.
According to police and the Seattle Fire Department, a 75-year-old man was stabbed in the neck, and a 77-year-old man was stabbed in the back. Both were taken to Harborview Medical Center in stable condition. A 55-year-old man was stabbed in the forearm and treated at the scene but declined further assistance.
The suspect ran east on Pike Street and removed all his clothes, according to the probable cause statement. Multiple witnesses then pointed the suspect out to officers at Ninth Avenue and Pike Street as he ran north on the southbound off-ramp from Interstate 5, where he was arrested, the statement says.
Police say Morisette told officers he had used methamphetamine earlier Tuesday morning and didn’t remember anything in the days between July 4 and his arrest, according to the statement.
Court records show Morisette’s criminal history dates back to 2009, with 34 cases filed against him. Thirty-three of them were filed in municipal or district courts in Whatcom and King counties for misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor offenses, including assaults.
His first felony charge – an attempted burglary for trying to break into a woman’s South Seattle home – was filed in March 2017. That August, he was sent to Western State Hospital so his competency could be restored through medication, enabling him to participate in his defense. He was twice moved to different wards within the psychiatric hospital after assaulting other patients, according to the forensic mental-health report written by his doctors, which described Morisette as being aggressive and challenging.
He was diagnosed with unspecified schizophrenia spectrum as well as unspecified substance-abuse disorder, according to the report.
Morisette was ultimately found competent to stand trial, pleaded guilty to the burglary charge and had his case transferred to mental-health court, the court records show.
At the time of Tuesday’s stabbings, Morisette was under the supervision of the state Department of Corrections for the burglary case as well as separate charges of malicious mischief and third-degree assault, according to a department spokeswoman. Conditions of his supervision included meeting with his community corrections officers and not using drugs or possessing firearms, she wrote in an email.
Susan Morisette, who hasn’t heard from her son in a few weeks, learned of his most recent arrest when she was contacted by a reporter on Wednesday.
“It’s really shocking to me this is random,” she said.
She said her son’s previous assaults generally were against people he was hanging around, so the accusation that he randomly attacked strangers represents an escalation in his behavior.
“He’d been doing really well, working with his DOC officer and Sound Mental Health and going to his classes and doing all the things he was supposed to be doing,” she said.
Morisette, a retired nurse, and her ex-husband were foster parents and adopted their first son, Paul, when he was six weeks old. Paul Morisette, who died last year from an undiagnosed heart condition, was born at Western State Hospital to a mother diagnosed with schizophrenia.
When Paul’s biological mother became pregnant a second time with Christopher, Morisette and her husband agreed to adopt that baby, too.
Like his older brother, Christopher Morisette was born at Western State Hospital, Susan Morisette said. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he was 5, she said.
‘You just get to the point you’re numb’
During his childhood and adolescence, Morisette said, Christopher was on medication and received “all the services” to help with his mental-health issues. He graduated from Bellingham High School with a nearly 4.0 grade-point average, his mother said. He got a job in the Skagit Mall, but was let go after only three months because of his impulsivity, she said.
When he was 18, Christopher Morisette left home and has spent at least the last three years living in homeless shelters in downtown Seattle, according to his mother. Now, she thinks he’s more schizophrenic than bipolar, and described him talking to himself, hearing voices and reacting to those voices.
“It’s been tough because there’s not a whole lot I can do,” she said. “He’s always been in trouble with the law, but it’s never been anything big.”
Her son’s brushes with the criminal-justice system have followed a predictable pattern, Susan Morisette said: He gets arrested, goes to jail, is sent to a mental-health facility and stabilizes, and then is dropped from services once he’s doing well. Then he goes off his medication, commits a new crime, and the pattern resumes.
“You just get to the point you’re numb and you’re not surprised when things happen,” she said.
Seattle Times staff reporter Dan Beekman and news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story.