Perry Manley didn't want to pay child support, and the seeming unfairness of a system that hounded him to turn over his hard-earned cash...

Share story

Perry Manley didn’t want to pay child support, and the seeming unfairness of a system that hounded him to turn over his hard-earned cash to his ex-wife had made him angry and obsessed over the past 15 years.

Manley had written and talked about the topic ad nauseam. He had filed no fewer than five lawsuits, and had joined others supporting the rights of fathers as noncustodial parents. Being required to pay child support for his three children, Manley claimed, was a form of involuntary servitude, where a man is forced to work to support a child he is not responsible for raising. In recent years, his writings and actions showed him to be increasingly bitter.

In the end, his obsession is apparently what got him killed, in what friends believe was a last-ditch effort to draw attention to his cause.

Manley was shot to death yesterday, the day after Father’s Day, by two Seattle police officers inside the secure foyer of the federal courthouse. In one hand, he clutched a defused fragmentation grenade.

Manley, dressed in camouflage and carrying a backpack strapped across his chest, walked into the courthouse shortly before noon and tried to inch along a small ledge that rings an indoor reflection pond in an apparent attempt to avoid the metal detectors. Eric Robertson, U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Washington, said security officers saw he was holding a World War II-era hand grenade and confronted him.

Security officers summoned police and spent more than 20 minutes trying to persuade him to surrender. He placed papers he apparently wanted to present to a judge on the floor and used both hands to cup the grenade to his body, a police spokeswoman said.

Police fired twice after he “made a furtive movement with the grenade,” Robertson said at a news conference yesterday. He was shot once with a shotgun and once with a .223-caliber assault rifle, said Seattle Police Chief Gil Kerlikowske. It was clear the man was dead immediately after the shooting, he said.

The incident prompted the evacuation of hundreds of courthouse personnel, including judges, jurors, employees and prisoners. The courthouse was closed the remainder of the day.

Police later determined that the bottom of the grenade had been drilled out, making it inactive, but that wasn’t apparent to officers, Kerlikowske said. A bomb expert was called to examine the contents of the man’s backpack because officials were worried he might have strapped explosives to his body. No explosives were found. Instead, officials found a cutting board and a copy of the man’s living will inside his bag, the chief said.

Kerlikowske speculated that the cutting board may have been for protection against police bullets and suggested, given that the man was carrying a copy of his living will, that his death may be a case of “suicide by police.”

Manley, 52, was a well-known figure at the U.S. District Courthouse who had recently attracted the attention of the U.S. Marshals Service after accusing U.S. District Judge Thomas Zilly of treason in a letter filed in court last April. Manley said the crime was punishable by death, and wrote on a fathers’-rights Web site that he was visited by two agents later that month.

Zilly, contacted at home last night, acknowledged that “the letters were turned over to the U.S. Marshals Office.” The judge called the shooting “tragic.”

Carried will with him

A friend of Manley’s, Richard Roberts, said Manley wrote a living will the day after the visit from the agents and always carried it with him. Manley had said he believed agents were “going to shoot him anyway,” Roberts said.

Manley’s ex-wife, Susan Calhoun, 48, of Suquamish, Kitsap County, said yesterday she was aware that Manley had been killed, but had not been formally notified by police. His oldest daughter, Kristen Manley, 23, said she also was aware of the shooting.

Both declined comment last night.

Police last night had not released Manley’s name, but his identity was confirmed by a law-enforcement source.

Last month, according to published reports, Manley attempted to burn an American flag in a rainstorm on the plaza outside the courthouse. According to a story in the homeless publication Real Change, Manley was so well known to courthouse security officers that they greeted him by name. Manley had notified the media about his flag-burning plans, but only a Real Change reporter showed up.

Tom Swanson, who accompanied Manley to the flag burning and shares Manley’s belief that child support is illegal, said Manley had promised that if the flag burning didn’t attract enough attention to his plight, he was going to do something “more drastic.”

“Nobody would listen to us,” said Swanson, who lives in his car in Tacoma and was reached by cellphone.

“His final statement”

Roberts of East Bremerton said Manley had been jailed at least twice for contempt of court for failing to pay child support.

“He was an extremely hardheaded individual,” said Roberts, who met Manley at the Silverdale Baptist Church in Bremerton 16 years ago.

“This was his way of making his final statement. I’m sure what he did was premeditated,” Roberts said. “This is not a wacko, but a guy who was at the end of his ropes. It’s a tragedy he felt he had to go this far.”

Roberts said Manley wasn’t opposed to giving money to his ex-wife, he just didn’t think the state had the right to force him to make payments.

Pleadings in the numerous lawsuits filed by Manley over the years show the arc of his obsession.

Calhoun had their marriage dissolved in 1990. He appealed a court order for child support, which was summarily dismissed.

Manley’s court filing, done without an attorney, “contains no statements of facts,” the appellate court judges noted.

Over the next decade, Manley would lose dozens of jobs and be jailed. The courts noted that he was “voluntarily underemployed” in an effort to attempt to avoid his child-custody payments of more than $600 and back payments that by 2002 had grown to more than $8,000.

Living in a shelter

From 2001 until last year, Manley lived at the William Booth Center, a shelter run by the Salvation Army that provides housing and support services to homeless men in the Chinatown International District in Seattle.

A facilitator there, Mike Jones, said he remembered Manley, but he was unwilling to say much without permission from his superiors. He said Manley was forced to leave last year because he had reached the limit of the amount of time he could stay.

Manley, who Roberts said was a Navy veteran, participated in the veterans transitional program at the shelter, which houses up to 185 men, Jones said. Manley wore fatigues when he lived there, Jones said.

In the meantime, he sued the state and several of his past employers, claiming they were violating his rights by garnisheeing his wages and turning his pay over to the state. His most recent lawsuit was assigned to Judge Zilly in January 2003, but like the others was dismissed a few months later.

Manley, however, continued to file often rambling pleadings, including several in which he accused Zilly of treason. The most recent was filed June 1.

Last night, the FBI searched Manley’s studio apartment in the 2500 block of Western Avenue in Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood, Robertson, the U.S. Marshal, said. Manley was a frequent visitor at both the federal courthouse and the Jackson Federal Building on Second Avenue.

“In most instances, he would come in and would be required to go through screening. At times, he would sit outside in the courtyard area,” said Robertson, adding the man seemed to be motivated by “a global government frustration.”

The entire incident yesterday was captured on digital security video, but Robertson declined to release that footage. Still, he said, “you can clearly see the [court security officer] trying to get him to put down what was in his hand.”

Jeff Sullivan, the chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, was getting off the elevators on the fourth floor of the courthouse when he saw the man, surrounded by armed officers, backed up against the glass wall at the west end of the courthouse foyer. Sullivan said the man was on the secure side of the reflecting pond, not far from the elevators that would have given him access to the rest of the courthouse.

The man, Sullivan said, had his arms through the harness of a yellow backpack across his chest. Sullivan said the man had a manila folder full of papers in one hand and an object he couldn’t see in the other.

“The officers had their guns out and had taken safety positions,” Sullivan said. “They were talking to him. I clearly heard them tell him to put down what he had in his hand.”

Sullivan said he thought the man may have said something like, “I’ll come halfway,” but the officers insisted he drop whatever he was holding.

At that point, Sullivan said, agents with the U.S. Marshals Service noticed him up against the railing “and told me to get the hell out of there,” he said. A few minutes later, as officials were ordering the evacuation of the first five floors of the courthouse, he said he heard two shots.

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or

Mike Carter: 206-464-3796 or

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or

Seattle Times staff reporters Steve Miletich and Peter Lewis, Times researcher Gene Balk and Times news partner King-5 TV contributed to this report.