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Veteran with PTSD, jailed on attempted murder charges, sues D.A.

July 31, 2012|By David Zucchino
  • Staff Sgt. Joshua Eisenhauer, with his mother Dawn Erickson, was diagnosed with severe PTSD from two combat tours in Afghanistan. Charged with attempted murder after opening fire on emergency workers, he said he believed police and firemen were insurgents attacking his position.
Staff Sgt. Joshua Eisenhauer, with his mother Dawn Erickson, was diagnosed… (Courtesy of Dawn Erickson )

WILMINGTON, N.C. -- A North Carolina soldier diagnosed with combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder has filed a civil lawsuit against a local district attorney for allegedly failing to allow access to specialized PTSD treatment while the soldier is imprisoned on attempted-murder charges.

Staff Sgt. Joshua Eisenhauer, 30, has asked that his case be transferred from civilian courts to the military justice system so that he can receive specialized PTSD treatment mandated by the military. The soldier's civil suit, filed last week, alleges that his right to comprehensive mental health treatment has been violated by the Cumberland County, N.C., district attorney's refusal to transfer jurisdiction.

Eisenhauer was charged in January with 15 counts of attempted murder and assault for firing on firefighters and police responding to a minor fire in Eisenhauer’s apartment complex in Fayetteville. Eisenhauer and his attorney say the soldier was experiencing PTSD-related flashbacks and believed that police were Afghan insurgents attacking his position.

No police or firefighters were injured. Eisenhauer is recovering from gunshot wounds to his face, chest, thigh and scalp.

The lawsuit said that when Eisenhauer regained consciousness at a hospital after the incident he asked a nurse: "Who’s got the roof?’’ adding that he'd been fighting insurgents.

Eisenhauer’s lawyer, Mark L. Waple, said state prison officials have told him they aren't equipped to provide the PTSD treatment Eisenhauer needs. Eisenhauer is being held at Central Prison in Raleigh, N.C., while awaiting trial.

The Cumberland County district attorney, Billy West, has declined to surrender jurisdiction of the case. 

Military authorities at Ft. Bragg, where Eisenhauer was based, said in a letter attached to the lawsuit that they will not take jurisdiction as long as Eisenhauer is being prosecuted by civilian authorities. The two-star general who wrote the letter said he asked Army medical officials at Ft. Bragg to determine the extent of any assistance they might offer Eisenhauer.

Waple said West has not responded to three complaints filed with the district attorney's office. West did not respond to telephone requests for comment for this report; he said in the Fayetteville Observer that military prosecutors told him they don’t want the case.

"They specifically told me they had no desire to exercise jurisdiction to prosecute the case and it was properly located in the state system,’’ he told the newspaper.

A Ft. Bragg spokesman reiterated that the military would not accept jurisdiction while state authorities were actively pursuing the case.

Waple said he filed the suit because of "our concern for the deteriorating mental health of SSG Eisenhauer.’’

Because Eisenhauer has not been convicted of a crime, Waple said, he is still on active duty and eligible for all PTSD treatment provided to active-duty soldiers. The only way he can get that care is to be transferred to the military justice system, he said.

In a letter attached to the lawsuit, a psychiatrist at Central Prison wrote that no one in the state prison system is "familiar with or trained in" the type of PTSD treatment mandated by the Army surgeon general. In addition, he wrote, the prison’s supply of drugs for PTSD treatment is limited.

"Without appropriate treatment, there’s a likelihood [Eisenhauer’s] condition will deteriorate significantly," wrote Dr. Michael J. Larson, the prison's chief of inpatient services.

Eisenhauer also suffers from a traumatic brain injury caused by exposure to explosions while serving in Afghanistan, Waple said.

The district attorney has 20 days to respond to the suit but can request an extension.

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david.zucchino@latimes.com

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