Feb. 24, 2006

By Jacob Quinn Sanders
Portland Tribune

There are three stories about Vincent Lee Wyatt that begin to separate him from your average Multnomah County repeat offender.

The one about defecating in his pants toward the end of a resisting-arrest trial, which brought him a mistrial. Another about breaking into his lawyer’s office at 3 a.m. to help himself to a bottle of Old Grand-Dad. And then the one about that same lawyer Ñwho is quite close to Wyatt and one of the few people he seems to trust even a little Ñ offering to buy him a one-way ticket to Alaska.

To top it off, there’s the rumor that Frank Miller’s “Sin City” graphic-novel anti-hero Marv, especially the movie version, is based on Wyatt.

But those aren’t the only reasons that everyone in the county’s courthouse, police precincts and jails seems to know the guy.

“The TriMet inspectors know him, too,” said Alex Hamalian, the lawyer Wyatt is closest to.

Wyatt, 43 years old, an imposing 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, who used to be a welder and a machinist before drinking overtook his life, has been booked into Multnomah County jails 59 times on a total of 175 charges since 1987. Almost every one of the charges is a misdemeanor, ranging from trespassing to resisting arrest to interfering with public transportation. With that kind of history and with his own ideas of how the legal process should work, he clogs up judges’ and prosecutors’ time and resources.

He never waives an appearance in court, attending all pretrial meetings Ñ even the ones defendants traditionally do not Ñ and files reams of handwritten motions when his lawyers do not serve him to his satisfaction. Only once has he pleaded guilty. He often defends himself and, more often, fires his court-appointed counsel Ñ he has had at least 34 attorneys represent him in the last 19 years, as many as seven on a single case. On one recent case, in which he represented himself, he was drunk in court while cross-examining the cop who arrested him for drinking in public.

And he is in jail right now.

“The lore surrounding Vince Wyatt keeps growing, that’s for sure,” said John Casalino, the Multnomah County deputy district attorney who prosecuted the resisting-arrest case that ended in a mistrial.

John Sarre, a lawyer in Hamalian’s firm who has represented Wyatt frequently, said with a laugh that Wyatt is a citywide issue all on his own.

“I had a prosecutor tell me once that Vince Wyatt by himself is a quality-of-life problem,” he said.

No shortage of people who have dealt with him said Wyatt seems obsessed with and addicted to the legal process, the show of a trial and the legal intricacies that can mean the difference between jail and freedom.
‘Nobody’s gonna screw me’

“Sometimes I don’t feel the attorneys are doing the job that needs to be done,” Wyatt said in an interview from the Multnomah County Detention Center.

So he does it himself. He’s not the best jailhouse lawyer he knows, but he knows enough. And there is an advantage, he said, to representing himself.

“Then nobody’s gonna screw me around,” he said. “I don’t like people trying to screw me around.”

But it’s not always about being in or out of jail. He has sued former Sheriff Dan Noelle, and lost, and also Aramark, the food-service giant that handles Multnomah County jail meals. In the Aramark case alone, Wyatt filed nine Multnomah County Inmate Grievance forms against his jailers for being unhelpful in serving papers on the case’s defendants.

Wyatt knows he has made his life more than a little rough. For most of his 43 years, he has hit the bottle pretty hard, with that bottle recently starting to hit back harder. He can feel his mind slowing down, he said. Decisions that were once easy have gotten tougher. His body has softened.

“I just need to get the hell out of Portland,” he said.

He was born here and grew up in Washington, where he still has family. When he worked, he had jobs at the airport, on the railroad, in the shipyards.

“Somewhere along the line I just gave up working,” he said.

He has had opportunities to leave before, he said. He just never took them.

“Too much procrastinating, too much drinking,” he said.

Now he can’t leave. Too many cases hanging over his head, and he can’t seem to get off probation.

“I’ll get to Alaska when I clear up my last case, when I get off probation, and it’s gonna happen,” Wyatt said, his voice a soft, deep rumble.

Deputy District Attorney Darian Stanford is doubtful.

“That’s a list of things that are never going to happen,” he said.
Court time is a homecoming

Wyatt is in court enough that the clerks and sheriff’s deputies have gotten to know him well.

“When Vince comes in, it’s like having someone home for Christmas,” Deputy Rick Connelly said. “He knows everybody, everybody knows him, and if he’s in a good mood he’s a real pleasant, bright guy.”

Even looking at his mug shots Ñ he has had 41 taken in Multnomah County Ñ it is easy to see how he can change. In some, he looks like a suburban high school track coach. In others, a bar brawler. At his worst, he looks like any other bum whom Portlanders step over every day.

“Keep in mind, though, he’s not like this lovable cartoon character,” Stanford said. “Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck are not out there threatening other street people and assaulting cops.”

When he’s not in jail, Wyatt chooses to live on the street. On the outside, he doesn’t have to worry about getting cash.

“An old-timer I met in jail a long time ago showed me how to get on Social Security,” Wyatt said.

Hamalian, whose law firm defends Wyatt regularly, said it is too easy to underestimate the man.

“He’s smart enough to never do anything that requires a prison stint,” Hamalian said. “He has a rough charm that is unsurpassed. Believe it or not when you look at the guy, but he is quite a ladies’ man.”

Of Wyatt’s numerous convictions, only three have been for felonies, and minor ones at that. All of his jail time has been at the county level, and he has never been to state prison.

“I know where that line is most of the time, man,” Wyatt said.
‘I’d heard all the stories’

Hamalian and his associate Sarre usually wind up working on Wyatt’s defense, something they have done for almost a decade.

Even though Wyatt broke into his office. The only thing missing was that bottle of Old Grand-Dad.

Stanford thought he had his hands full when he got assigned a Wyatt case last year. In that case, Wyatt was convicted of resisting arrest after a trial in which he was uncharacteristically sedate, though afterward he appealed the conviction.

“I’d heard all the stories about him crapping his pants and hiding in bathrooms and walking out in the middle of closing arguments,” Stanford said. “I didn’t see any fireworks. But the gallery was packed almost every day with court employees and other people because it was a Vince trial.”

Wyatt said he acts out sometimes because he can’t control himself and sometimes because he thinks it works.

“You think I want to go to jail?” he asked. “I don’t want to go to jail. If it works, I’m going to do it.”

The prospect of a “Vince trial” and the attention it garners inside the Southwest Fourth Avenue courthouse tickles and frustrates Wyatt, who said he often feels like a target. The Portland Police Bureau’s East Precinct used to keep a picture of him on a wall, and officer Tom Mack took the stand in the trial Stanford prosecuted to tell the court how much he disliked Wyatt.

“I don’t get along much with cops,” Wyatt said.

Asked whose fault that was, he grumbled and chuckled.

“My fault, probably.”