UPDATE: The house where Michael Kotas was living in Home was severely damaged in a fire the morning of Sept. 8. Neighbors reported shouting and smoke coming from the residence. The fire appeared to have been accidently set by squatters. Kotas remains in custody pending the outcome of his competency hearing Sept. 27.
Michael Kotas, 46, of Lakebay was arrested July 22 for second-degree assault on a Home community resident. A hearing Aug. 8 to determine whether Kotas is competent to stand trial was continued to Sept. 27 and he was ordered held in Western State Hospital for psychiatric evaluation. He may go to trial or remain in Western State for treatment, according to the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office.
While Kotas is innocent of the assault charge until proven guilty in court, the Key Peninsula News is identifying him by name contrary to editorial policy because he is well-known in his community for erratic behavior, and because some of his neighbors agreed to speak to KP News on condition of anonymity about their efforts to help him before rising tensions over the last year erupted into violence in July.
According to court records, Kotas has been repeatedly arrested over the years for sexual assault, simple assault, and felony harassment. In 2005 he was convicted in King County of third-degree assault with sexual motivation on a female resident of a group home where the two were living. He is a registered level 3 sex offender; one rated most likely to reoffend.
“When he first started showing up, he would walk basically along A street or up and down the hill literally at a snail’s pace, head down, and didn’t really engage with anybody,” said one resident. “At some point he was gone for a while. He might have been picked up and institutionalized. And when he came back, he was much more outgoing, much more communicative with people, active. One thing he’d do that was kind of intimidating, it was only with women, he’d circle them with his bike and start asking them questions, like what’s your name.”
In the summer of 2020, Kotas was accused of vandalizing a dock, stealing a rowboat, and threatening residents with a knife. A warrant was issued for his arrest, and he was briefly institutionalized.
In October, Kotas approached a Home resident cutting up a fallen tree. “I don’t want to scare anybody. I’m just looking for some firewood,” Kotas said.
The resident said, “I thought maybe if he had a nice warm place to stay, he wouldn’t be searching all over the neighborhood for firewood, so I took a load of wood over to him. After that he was almost every day at my house wanting to read a couple psalms out of the Bible and break some bread. One time he picked up my guitar and played this song he said he’d written. Blew me away.”
Kotas asked the resident for help getting medication. “I said ‘Oh yes, you definitely need that.’ He was on meds at the time, just needed a renewal. He got out of the hospital at the end of September with no follow-up.
“I was astonished at how hard it is to fight that battle, and if you’re incapacitated like Kotas there’s no hope. It took us months to get a doctor’s appointment and get him medication on a regular basis.”
Kotas was living in a house owned by a man who had willed it to him after his death in July 2020, another resident said. He showed him a stack of documents to that effect, and the resident helped him respond to an ongoing court challenge from the deceased owner’s family about the property.
Kotas used to regularly ask another Home resident to fill water jugs he would carry back to his house because he had no electricity and therefore no running water. “When you see how he functions, he’s essentially homeless. And he functions like that because of his significant mental health issues,” the resident said.
Other neighbors assisted him with cashing his disability checks and got him an Electronic Benefits Transfer card from DSHS to buy food, “but he can’t handle that. He gave it to some guy to use and then had to wait until the end of the month to get more food,” said one neighbor.
Kotas’ behavior started to deteriorate in early spring, and a resident called the county Mobile Outreach Crisis Team. “There was a social worker and a nurse who prescribed the meds. They came out in January without much success, and then again in April with a month’s worth of meds and that got us through to the end of May. They explained ‘This is it for us, we’re done.’ They had no recommendations for him.”
In June and July, Kotas was in the neighborhood almost every day, riding his bike, trying to talk to people or silently watching them, entering private yards or sometimes homes. Residents frequently called 911, but with not much result.
“What I’ve heard from a couple of the deputies (who responded) is they’re very familiar with Michael, but they also express a sense of frustration about their hands being tied,” said one resident. “The system is not really addressing these kinds of situations because often people like Michael are out free again on the street and causing more harm.”
Pierce County Councilmember and Chair Derek Young (D-7th District, which includes the KP) said he was glad to hear community members were trying to help Kotas, but that the state legislature needs “to change the laws to allow us more discretion to have people committed,” and that the county “needs to build additional capacity in order for them to have a place to go.”
“The Behavioral Health Advisory Board that we appointed is working on that right now,” he said. “We need to get people into what we call permanent supportive housing who have serious barriers to overcome. Getting them into the crisis part is one thing, but what do you do when they’re released? They need a place to go where they can continue to have support and begin healing and that needs to be in a safe living environment.”
Calling 911 is the best option for now, he said. If it’s not a crisis, dial 211. “It’s our catchall that we have developed over the last year for all human service needs,” Young said. “If you just know someone that is obviously struggling and could use some help, getting them connected with 211 is not a bad idea.”
“I can understand these events are frustrating,” he said. “Both the state and the county are working on it and we’re just digging ourselves out of this unbelievable (budget) hole, so it will take a while.”
In the second week of July, Kotas allegedly attacked one of the residents who’d been trying to help him in recent months with a picket broken from his own fence.
The resident had asked him politely to leave his yard. “He turned and looked at me and it was like he didn’t know me, and then he just took that wooden picket and swung it as hard as he could right at my head. I blocked it with my hand, and he dropped it and said, ‘I’m going to get my knife.’ I said ‘Michael, I’m filming all this for the police. You need to leave,’ and he did.”
Over the next 10 days, Kotas allegedly threw a log at a passing car, got into an armed confrontation with two men at the Home boat ramp, was found hiding in neighbors’ yards, and assaulted another resident without causing serious injury, before smashing their car windows.
He was arrested shortly afterward.
“I was trying to protect my neighbors,” said one of the residents about his efforts to help Kotas. “Give him firewood, get his medications, keep him safe. I just thought if this will keep him out of the neighborhood, I’m willing to do that for him.”
Another resident said, “If you see how he lives, literally — and I don’t mean this to be derogatory — it’s like a wild animal. The situation for him is pretty inhumane, and not just for him; other people in the community are suffering as a result. If he comes back and starts that same pattern of behavior again someone is probably going to end up getting seriously hurt.”
And it might be Kotas, he said.
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