Cops who know him say Mark T. Haven reminds them of a ticking time bomb.
His friends call him a basically decent man who likes cats, suffers from mood swings and needs psychiatric help.
The criminal-justice system doesn't quite know what to do with him.
Haven, of Niagara Falls, has been in federal custody since last August. He was arrested on a weapons charge by federal agents who went to his home to investigate allegations that he had threatened to kill President Bush.
In an unusual court case, federal prison officials recently asked a judge to require that Haven take potentially dangerous anti-psychotic drugs. Prison officials hope the drugs will make Haven mentally competent to stand trial.
U.S. Magistrate Judge H. Kenneth Schroeder said he is reluctant to require Haven to take the drugs, because of the potential side effects. But the judge said he is concerned that, if released, the 52-year-old Haven could pose a danger to society.
Niagara Falls police said Haven has a long record of arrests that includes charges he shot a man, threatened violence against numerous others in his neighborhood and possessed homemade grenades and a rocket launcher.
"He's intelligent. He has his lucid moments, but something sets him off and he flies off the handle," said John Humphrey, a veteran Niagara Falls police detective who has had many dealings with Haven. "To me, he's a potentially dangerous individual, like a time bomb waiting to go off."
According to police, Haven has been accused in the past of making racist threats and flying a Confederate flag in a largely black neighborhood. Police said that most of the criminal charges against Haven wind up being dropped, largely because people are afraid of him.
Before his arrest, Haven occupied two ramshackle homes side by side on 15th Street. Today, those yards and porches are strewn with junk. Family friends say that as many as 25 cats lived with Haven in the two homes.
For now, Haven is in legal limbo. He is held in a mental health facility run by the U.S. Bureau of Prisons in Butner, N.C. He faces felony charges of illegal possession of a shotgun and some ammunition found in his home. Because he is a former psychiatric patient, Haven cannot legally own firearms or ammunition.
Schroeder has ordered further mental exams to determine whether Haven can stand trial and if he would pose a danger to the public if he were released.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Timothy C. Lynch acknowledged that it is possible Haven never will be ruled competent for trial. Haven's attorney, federal public defender Kimberly A. Schechter, agreed.
What happens then? Will he be put back on the streets or confined to a mental health facility? Ultimately, the courts will decide.
"I want to do what is best for the public, while at the same time recognizing that Mr. Haven has rights," Schroeder said in court last month.
According to two Niagara Falls police detectives, neighbors are afraid of Haven. When a Buffalo News reporter visited the 15th Street neighborhood, several people who live or work nearby declined to talk about Haven.
But two close family friends said Haven would never intentionally harm anyone. William and Barbara Boeck of Lewiston said that Haven has a sad life history and that they have been trying to help him get the right mental treatment since 1980.
The Boecks said Haven has wide mood swings that cause him to say and do irrational things. They said that he is learning-disabled and that he grew up having very little interaction with other children.
Haven collects Social Security disability payments and formerly worked as the janitor in a Lewiston church, the couple said.
"He does have a fascination with explosives and fireworks, but I don't think he would ever use them to hurt anyone," William Boeck said. "Mark tries to pass himself off as a tough guy, because he's in a tough neighborhood."
Police declined to release Haven's full criminal history, but the Boecks said he has been in and out of jail numerous times, usually relating to disagreements with neighbors.
Haven was arrested by agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, the Secret Service and Niagara Falls Police Department. Agents went to question Haven after receiving a tip he made threatening remarks about the president.
Even if he were convicted of the pending federal charges, Haven would be unlikely to face more than a year or two in prison, Lynch said. Further court action is expected in the case sometime in the next few months.
"I don't think Mark belongs in a prison," Barbara Boeck said. "But if he is released, I hope there is a court order for him to get regular treatment and medication. He won't get the help he needs if he isn't required to do it."