Tyrone Powell isn’t talking to anyone. Not his attorneys, the judge in his case or guards at the Douglas County Jail, where he has been lodged the last three weeks since his most recent arrest stemming from the alleged theft of land from an Elkton woman.
At a court hearing Wednesday — the third one this month — Powell again appeared by video from his jail cell. Like the two previous hearings, Powell laid on his left side on the bunk in his cell, a thin blanket draped over him, his face inches from the off-white cinderblock wall, his back to the world.
Powell did not speak or move when Douglas County District Court Judge William Marshall spoke to him. Powell’s court-appointed attorney, Gina Marie Stewart, said Powell also failed to speak or respond to her or the guard when she went to visit him.
“He refused to see me,” Stewart said.
Why is that, officials wondered? Is he incapable of speaking? Of understanding what’s going on around him? In short, is he competent to stand trial? Or is he faking a mental illness, as authorities say he has cleverly done before to avoid trouble?
“I don’t know if this is malingering or if this is him shutting down mentally,” Marshall said in court Wednesday. To get an answer to that, Marshall ordered Powell to undergo a mental evaluation to determine if he can be helped locally and stand trial, or if he needs to be sent to a state mental health hospital for treatment.
Marshall scheduled a hearing for Dec. 23 to go over the results of the evaluation and determine what to do with Powell.
Powell, 41, was arrested on Feb. 26 and charged with five felonies, including aggravated theft, identity theft and perjury, in connection with the purported theft of 30 acres in Elkton from a woman named Janet Grosz. He also faced a misdemeanor charge of initiating a false report.
On March 31, Powell was released from jail without having to pay bail after signing a one-page conditional release agreement in which he agreed to “seek immediate medical treatment.” Under the agreement, Powell also agreed to appear in court when directed.
He had made several court appearances since then, each time appearing in a wheelchair with an oxygen tank to help him breathe. The rare times he spoke it was in a child-like whisper, his words difficult to hear or understand.
An initial trial date was set for July, but that was postponed to give Stewart more time to prepare, including bringing a witness down from Alaska.
A second trial date was set for Dec. 7. But on Nov. 15, Powell did not show up for a pre-trial hearing and Marshall issued a warrant for his arrest. Powell was arrested in Portland on Nov. 23 and transported to the Douglas County Jail, with bail set at $500,000.
Two more charges — felony and misdemeanor failure to appear — were added for missing the hearing.
People who know Powell, as well as law enforcement officers who have investigated him, say he is a skilled manipulator who often fakes illness to win people over and get out of trouble.
Authorities say Powell faked having cancer to steal 30 acres of land in Elkton from Grosz, 67.
Grosz said when she met Powell in 2019, he went by the name John Paul Hope. He told her about his plans to create a place where disabled veterans could live in dignity. Grosz agreed to give him 3 acres of her 55-acre ranch in Elkton for his plan to build housing for those veterans.
But authorities now say that nothing Powell said was truthful. The veterans housing project he proposed was fiction and instead of using 3 acres of Grosz’s ranch he forged documents and took possession of 30 acres, authorities said.
Powell has been swindling individuals and corporations for years, those authorities said, often through phony nonprofit organizations he claimed to run. He operated at least a half-dozen fraudulent nonprofit organizations under such names as “The Missing Piece Foundation,” “True Story World,” and “Love,” authorities said.
Those fake nonprofits accepted donations from individuals and corporations, but Powell either kept, discarded or sold them, police said.
“This is all made up, he’s faking,” Grosz said of Powell’s apparent inability to converse. “This is all a game to him, and he’s good at it.”