PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A 36-year-old homeless man who claimed to be an Army veteran is accused of spitting at a Portland State University student’s mother, who was visiting from India.
The PSU student was riding the MAX Green line on June 15 with her parents when Steven J. Klopp confronted them and began making racial slurs about their nationality, officials said.
“Her and her parents were about to board a MAX train when this person came on the train making disparaging remarks about their nationality, that they should go back to their country. Very disturbing. We at PSU pride ourselves on keeping safe, but unfortunately it happens across the country,” PSU Campus Police Sgt. Willie Halliburton said.
The 35-year-old is charged with intimidation and harassment and in court Friday he said, “I’m the nicest person to ever have been behind jail in American history.”
Klopp’s mother, who lives in Austin, Texas, told KOIN 6 News over the phone that her son is not racist but suffers from mental illness.
“He’s a very sweet, kind gentle person…when he’s on his medication,” Susan Klopp said. “I’m sorry that this incident happened. That is not at all the way my son truly feels but when someone has a mental illness their thinking is skewed.”
Susan Klopp said her son has a long history of mental illness, including bi-polar disorder. She said he comes from a good home and a loving family but his life has been complicated and consumed by outbursts, hardship and homelessness.
“Anything that you’re seeing, you’re seeing the illness,” she said.
Susan has been a mental health advocate for years and has been trying to help her son but his homelessness makes it hard to keep track of his whereabouts and state of mind.
“He has these delusions that if he goes someplace else, that everything will be OK or it’ll all be different but he doesn’t understand that his problems are going with him,” Klopp said.
She said she isn’t making excuses for her son’s behavior and actions. She just wants people to know how mental illnesses can consume the core beliefs of someone like her son.
“What those people saw on that train was the illness,” she said. “And I’m sorry about that.”