It’s rare that any institution shows signs of having a heart. Across America, certain jurisdictions are struggling to graft one on, experimenting with special courts to try veterans whose alleged criminal offenses appear to have been triggered by post-traumatic stress disorder. Today’s Times reports on the case of Brad Eifert, an Iraq War veteran and former U.S. Army recruiter. Last August 9, Eifert fled, armed, into the woods. Surrounded by police, he trained his .45 pistol on himself, before lowering and emptying it into nearby tree trunks.
Arrested with the help of a Tazer, Eifert was charged initially with trying to murder the nine arresting officers. But then his case came to the attention of David Jordon, an Ingham County District Court judge. Well informed on PTSD and its effects, Jordon had started a veterans’ court in East Lansing, where veterans‘ “have a chance to avoid jail by meeting a set of rigorous criteria.” Eifert’s actions impressed him as an attempt at “suicide by cop” — that is, in Jordon’s view, Eifert wanted the cops to kill him instead of the reverse.
Since Jordon’s veterans’ court rejects cases involving allegations of violence, Eifert’s defense attorney, prevailed on prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III to reduce the charges. Initially reluctant, Dunnings was eventually swayed by Eifert’s well-documented and unsuccessful search for relief from his PTSD symptoms. Finally, he allowed Eifert to plead guilty to a single count of carrying a weapon with unlawful intent — a felony.
On August 2, Eifert will enter the veterans’ court program. According to the Times: “Twelve to 18 months from now, if he adheres to the strict regimen of treatment through the Veterans Affairs hospital in Battle Creek and supervision set by the court, the charge could be dismissed or reduced to a misdemeanor.”
The Times quotes a Missouri prosecutor as saying that complaints, or even a plausible diagnosis, of PTSD shouldn’t amount to a “get out of jail free” card, and he’s obviously right. Veterans suffering from PTSD have committed some unquestionably ghastly acts. This past February, a 23-year-old Iraq War veteran named Robert Hull Marko was found guilty of slitting the throat of a woman he’d met over the internet. Marko also pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated sexual assault on a child. To put it mildly, these types of offenses can’t possibly be overlooked or excused.
But everyone connected with the Eifert case seems to be behaving very responsibly. The prosecutor regarded pleas for leniency with a healthy skepticism. He reduced the charges only with the consent of the victims — the police officers, who, after all, were not hurt. One quoted by the Times, Officer John Free, seems to have agreed without reservation, explaining, “There’s a difference between somebody who’s a criminal and someone who’s just in a perfect storm of things going wrong.”
At various times, both Eifert and Marko had been stattioned at Ft. Carson, Colorado, which gained notoriety for the rate at which its soldiers violated the public peace. Between 2005 and 2008, Fr. Carson soldiers were involved in 10 murders and three attempted murders. In November of 2008, a 24-man team compiled this report on the outbreak of violence. Without positing any causal relationships, the report considers numerous factors — including soldiers’ pre-enlistment criminal histories, drug and alcohol abuse, exposure to combat and barriers to seeking psychiatric treatment. It’s a sobering testament to just how many ingredients can go into creating the “perfect storm” Officer Free spoke of.