BELLEVUE — Before he crashed his pickup into a federal building in downtown Seattle, before he fired a rifle seemingly at random, before he was fatally shot by Seattle police officers, William Michael Stephens scrawled in permanent marker all over his garage door about how there was a plot to kill him.
Stephens, of Bellevue, was moving toward officers with a rifle when he was shot and killed, according to body-worn camera footage released by Seattle police Tuesday. But in recent weeks, Bellevue police and others who knew him had become alarmed by his spiraling mental health crisis, court records show.
He was identified Tuesday as William Michael Stephens, 39, by the King County Medical Examiner’s Office, which determined he died from multiple gunshot wounds. According to a neighbor and court records, Stephens went by Mike.
Stephens’ mental health appeared to deteriorate significantly in the last several months, to the extent that five days before he was killed, a Bellevue police officer filed a petition seeking an extreme risk protection order that would have barred Stephens from buying or possessing firearms, court records show.
In recent weeks, Bellevue police and social workers, along with Stephens’ former attorney and psychiatrist, were gravely concerned by his deteriorating mental state, but were unable to stop him from driving to downtown Seattle on Saturday night and instigating an armed confrontation with police.
According to the video released by Seattle police, when officers arrived after reports of gunfire, the man, dressed in coveralls, appears to be lying on his back, on the ground, with a rifle at his side. He is just outside the garage door at the Henry M. Jackson Federal Building on First Avenue and Marion. Multiple officers surround him, both at street level and from a staircase above. They repeatedly identify themselves as Seattle police and there are multiple calls to “drop your weapon” and “don’t do it.”
“You want me to Taze him, I can get him from here?” one officer says.
“No, you can’t get him from here,” another responds.
“He’s trying to shoot himself in the head now,” one officer says.
The man stands up, appears to pick up the rifle and begins moving toward officers. He is then hit by a barrage of shots.
The Seattle Police Department’s Force Investigations Team, which responds to all shootings by Seattle officers, is investigating the shooting and has not yet released additional information.
A roll-up garage door leading into the federal building’s loading dock was damaged, along with a security camera and an emergency generator, Christi Chidester, a spokesperson for the U.S. General Services Administration, which manages the building, said in an email. There were also numerous bullet strikes around the loading dock and nearby area by the driveway on the southeast side of the property, she wrote. Chidester could not provide a damage estimate or timeline for when repairs would be completed.
Stephens appeared to believe he was being threatened by the Brazilian mafia, his ex-wife and his ex-pastor, and that evidence of their conspiracy was contained in social media posts, according to the ERPO petition filed in King County Superior Court on Feb. 28.
A court commissioner signed a temporary ERPO order that same day, but a police officer who attempted to serve Stephens with the court order on March 1, was apparently unable to locate him, the records show.
Police had been called to Stephens’ Bellevue house at least twice in the preceding months, once in January and again Feb. 15.
Both times he tried to explain to officers about a plot to kill him, according to police reports.
On Jan. 29, officers wrote, they tried to offer mental health services, but Stephens refused, insisting his case needed to be taken to the FBI. He never threatened others, they wrote, and did not meet the criteria for involuntary commitment.
On Feb. 15, Stephens again called police to his house. Again, he said he did not want to harm himself or others and declined offers of mental health care.
Police referred his case to Bellevue Fire CARES, a city service where staff members, including social workers, seek to help people with needs that may not merit a 911 call or a fire or police response.
Staff at CARES, or Citizen Advocates for Referral and Education Services, called Stephens two days later but got a full voicemail. Three days after that, they visited his home but he wasn’t there.
Two days before Bellevue police asked for the protection order, Stephens’ former psychiatrist, in a witness statement, wrote that he believed Stephens’ behavior was “of grave concern.”
His concerns, the psychiatrist wrote, were for both Stephens and for his ex-wife.
“Mr. Stephens is suffering a very serious Delusion and rapid mental health decompensation and deterioration,” the psychiatrist wrote. “I have treated individuals over the course of 44 years with behaviors such as this which may have the potential to manifest in violence. I believe that Mr. Stephen’s condition is very dangerous.”
At his five-bedroom home on a quiet Bellevue cul-de-sac, Stephens scrawled words and sentences in black and blue permanent marker across the garage and front door. It’s unclear whether Stephens had a specific mental health diagnosis, but the words and phrases suggest the person who wrote them was struggling with paranoia.
“I need protective custody,” one says.
“3 Red Lights = compromised Home.”
“Flash one Headlight for signaling.”
“Bellevue Police scared of truth only believe mafia.”
Several of the messages appear to threaten Stephens’ ex-wife. Stephens was arrested for fourth-degree assault domestic violence in 2020.
The ERPO petition for the protection order says Bellevue police believed Stephens “poses a significant danger in the near future” of injuring himself or others if he has a firearm. Stephens has had recent contacts with police, in the last month, the order says, and “appears to be in a declining mental state.”
It says he had recently obtained a concealed pistol license and tried to purchase a gun at Wade’s Gun Shop in Bellevue earlier in February.
Wade’s declined to sell him a gun, the petition says, “after he expressed concerns about a mafia plot to kill him.”
The petition notes concerns that Stephens might have been in the process of trying to buy a gun from another dealer.
Both Stephens’ former psychiatrist and his attorney believed he was “delusional,” according to statements included in the petition. The attorney said he was trying to convince Stephens to check himself into a mental health facility, the document says.
One of Stephens’ neighbors, who asked not to be named to protect his privacy, said he noticed a change in his friend about four months ago when he said Stephens began dating a woman online who lives in Brazil.
Stephens began to believe he was in danger, the neighbor said. He closed down his landscaping business, sold most of his possessions and began sleeping in the attic and the crawl space, the neighbor said. His Facebook page is peppered with incoherent posts about a cult, murder plots and the mafia.
“Really quickly he became super paranoid,” the neighbor said. “He kept asking people what to do, ‘who do I go to, there’s watchers all over the place.’ ”
The neighbor had been letting Stephens sleep in his camping trailer, in his driveway. Early Saturday evening, the neighbor said, Stephens asked if he could sleep in the neighbor’s garage.
“When I turned him down, he went out and jumped in his truck and took off, about 6:30,” the neighbor said.
The first 911 calls from downtown Seattle Saturday night came in about 90 minutes later.
Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story.
Warning: This video includes graphic and disturbing imagery.
Correction: Seattle police shot and killed William Michael Stephens on Saturday outside the Henry M. Jackson Federal Building at 915 Second Ave. Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly gave the location of the shooting as outside the Federal Office Building at 909 First Ave.