The sister of the man arrested Tuesday in Richland for wielding a sword and attempting to force his way into a church commended police for their response and apologized for any families troubled by related lockdowns of a day care center and Christ the King School.
Steven Lee Houtrouw, 29, remains in the Benton County jail after appearing in Benton County District Court before Judge Dan Kathren.
The judge ordered Houtrouw held without bail on a 72-hour hold while prosecutors decide whether to file charges for first-degree burglary.
Kerry Bragg, one of Houtrouw’s five siblings, doesn’t believe her brother intended to harm anyone but himself.
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Houtrouw has struggled with mental impairments, including schizophrenia, that began to surface when he was in his early 20s, Bragg said. She is pursuing guardianship of her brother so she can get him the treatment he needs.
“We have not had an avenue to force him to get help,” she said, adding that she is glad the court is keeping him in custody. “At least in the jail he’s safe.”
In his words, he’s been waiting for God to take him.
Kerry Bragg, sister of suspect
Richland Police Capt. Mike Cobb said the officers who responded to the incident followed their training to the letter. No one was seriously hurt.
Cobb said he is glad deadly force was not necessary. Law enforcement has increasingly taken on dealing with people in crisis and trained to resolve those situations as peacefully as possible.
“We can recognize (when someone is in crisis), but we can’t control it,” Cobb said.
Bragg was at lunch with her husband when she heard the news of her brother’s arrest outside Christ the King School, not far from the rental property she owns and he lives in.
Houtrouw allegedly attempted to break into Central United Protestant Church on Stevens Drive with a katana-like sword, prompting someone to call 911. Christ The King School and a nearby day care went into lockdown until police could subdue Houtrouw with Tasers.
Houtrouw used to work as a welder, but his schizophrenia has progressively worsened, especially since he began refusing to take his medication about two years ago, leading him to not get jobs, Bragg said.
“He was a good kid. A sweet kid,” Bragg said. “He was hard-working.”
Houtrouw was arrested a few years ago for a domestic violence situation involving his ex-wife. Bragg said his family and neighbors have frequently called police for welfare checks on him, as he has suicidal tendencies and is known to cut himself.
Bragg said she doesn’t know where her brother got the sword, noting that her father went through his belongings to remove anything he could harm himself with.
There need to be better outlets. We need to be able to intervene before something happens. We’re just kind of stuck.
Kerry Bragg, sister of suspect
The family has tried several means to get Houtrouw help, from stints in a short-term residential treatment facility in Richland to attempts to take him to Kadlec for evaluation.
But the voices he hears have become dominant in his head, Bragg said, and he’s learned to minimize interaction with family and police so they don’t have cause to take him to the hospital.
And he has increasingly sought ways to die, possibly leading to Tuesday’s incident as a means to be shot by police.
“In his words, he’s been waiting for God to take him,” Bragg said.
She visited the jail to talk to authorities about her brother’s mental health history and be assured he was under observation, particularly for suicide risk. Bragg also spoke with the officer who first responded to the call about Houtrouw, who told her he did have his firearm drawn when he confronted him, she said.
Cobb said responses to people in mental crisis have become relatively routine calls, occurring every couple of weeks. The circumstances of each differ and the use of deadly force, while not a desired option, is always on the table when someone poses a danger with a weapon.
“That can be a very, very lethal threat,” Cobb said.
Bragg partially views her brother’s arrest as a silver lining because it might force him into treatment or keep him away from the public.
At the same time, she wishes it didn’t have to come to a situation that could have left him hurt or dead — or worse, someone else.
“There need to be better outlets. We need to be able to intervene before something happens,” she said, speaking of the difficulty families face in getting relatives into needed treatment. “We’re just kind of stuck.”