Tyrone Curtis Powell was slumped in a wheelchair and breathing with the help of an oxygen tank, but he made his court appearance Friday as he defends himself against allegations he stole 30 acres from an Elkton woman.
Powell was arrested Feb. 26 and charged with five felonies, including aggravated theft, identity theft and perjury, in connection with the purported theft of the land from Janet Grosz, 66. He had been held in the Douglas County jail since his arrest. On March 26, a misdemeanor charge of initiating a false report was added.
On March 31, Powell was released from jail after signing a one-page conditional release agreement in which he agreed to “seek immediate medical treatment.” Under the agreement, Powell, 40, also agreed to appear in court when directed. The amount of money Powell needed to post before being released was zero, according to the agreement.
On Friday, Powell appeared before Judge William Marshall for an update on his case.
Powell had an oxygen tank hanging from the back of the wheelchair, and had to be pushed around.
He had on a black and brown knit cap, black rimmed glasses, a dark navy jacket, black pants and black crocs. Powell wore a silver watch on his left wrist, and what appeared to be a plastic hospital ID wristband on his right wrist.
Throughout the roughly 20-minute hearing Powell slumped forward in his wheelchair, his hands folded in his lap, as if he was having trouble sitting upright. He spoke one word during the hearing, and it was barely audible.
“Yes,” Powell whispered when Marshall asked to affirm that he had pleaded not guilty.
Powell is undergoing tests to determine whether he is competent to stand trial.
“We believe that Mr. Powell has underlying medical issues that affect his ability to recall,” said his court-appointed defense attorney, Gina Marie Stewart.
There was a moment when it appeared that Powell might be put back in jail.
According to the conditional release agreement that allowed Powell to be released from jail, he was to remain at a location in Cottage Grove. However, Stewart acknowledged that Powell was actually staying at a hotel in Eugene.
“So he was released to live in a certain place, and you’re saying he’s not living there?” Marshall asked. “It troubles me when someone is not living where he is supposed to be.”
Prosecutor Allison Eichmann suggested that Powell be brought back to jail.
“If that’s not what is authorized by the release agreement, then we ask that he be remanded,” she said.
Marshall ultimately allowed Powell to remain out of jail. But he bristled again when Stewart said Powell had been dutifully checking in with her by phone twice a day.
“So he can speak on the phone but he can’t speak here in court?” Marshall asked rhetorically.
At one point, Powell was placed in the front spectator row in a spot designated for those in a wheelchair. Grosz was sitting in the same row a few feet away. The two did not look at each other.
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, a widowed, retired nurse, 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.
They also said Powell has been swindling individuals and corporations for years, 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.
Grosz filed a civil complaint against Powell to get her land back. That case is still winding its way through the court system.
Friday, Marshall set a July 20 trial date for the criminal charges against Powell.
Following the hearing, Grosz stood in the hallway shaking her head.
“I thought for sure they would put him in jail,” she said. “It’s all a game and he’s good at it. He’s going to pull it off as long as he can.”