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Soldier accused in firefight with police is prisoner to PTSD

Joshua Eisenhauer, believing he was under attack by insurgents, opened fire from in his North Carolina apartment. His lawyer wants the military to take over the case so the veteran can get the treatment he needs.

June 24, 2012|By David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times
  • Staff Sgt. Joshua Eisenhauer, 30, with his mother, Dawn Erickson. He faces 17 counts of attempted murder of firefighters and police officers in a shooting Jan. 13 in Fayetteville, N.C.
Staff Sgt. Joshua Eisenhauer, 30, with his mother, Dawn Erickson. He faces… (Courtesy of Dawn Erickson )

RALEIGH, N.C. — There were shouts and footsteps in the darkness, then a banging on the door.

Staff Sgt. Joshua Eisenhauer rose from his mattress on the floor of his apartment in Fayetteville, N.C. He reached under the bedding for his Glock 19 pistol. He fired into the night.

The noises had come from firefighters responding to a minor fire Jan. 13. But to Eisenhauer, a veteran of two Afghanistan combat tours diagnosed with severepost-traumatic stress disorder, the firefighters were insurgents storming his position.

Eisenhauer's ensuing gun battle with police lasted nearly two hours. He was shot in the face, chest and thigh, finally passing out from blood loss. When he was first able to speak in a hospital two days later, according to his lawyer, he asked a nurse: "Who's got the roof?"

Now Eisenhauer is inmate No. 1304704 in Raleigh's Central Prison. He faces 17 counts of attempted murder of firefighters and police officers, nine counts of assault with a deadly weapon, and other charges. No firefighters or police were hit.

In an unusual legal move, the soldier's lawyer, Mark L. Waple, and mother have asked the military to take over prosecution of his case. They say Central Prison cannot provide the treatment the Pentagon mandates for soldiers diagnosed with PTSD — only the military can.

A soldier's request for military prosecution while in civilian custody is rare but not unprecedented, said Victor M. Hansen, a professor at New England Law in Boston, and a former military lawyer. The process is complicated, he said, and both civilian and military authorities often resist.

Thousands of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are incarcerated in civilian jails and prisons, many without access to the type of PTSD treatments mandated by the military. The most recent Bureau of Justice Statistics survey put the number of incarcerated veterans at 140,000 in 2004.

Though the survey said incarceration rates for male veterans were lower than for nonveterans, the numbers are likely to increase as more service members return from overseas combat.

A Ft. Bragg spokesman, Col. Kevin Arata, said base legal authorities had carefully considered Waple's request but would not assume jurisdiction "because Cumberland County is actively pursuing this case.''

Billy West, district attorney in Cumberland County, near Ft. Bragg, did not respond to a request for comment.

Waple insists that PTSD therapy is Eisenhauer's best hope. The Army is more experienced at treating combat trauma than are therapists, he said.

Further, Waple said, the soldier's PTSD "caused or contributed to the events" in January. The military is legally obligated to treat active-duty soldiers — even those charged with serious crimes, he said.

"The Army espouses a philosophy of 'no soldier left behind,'" Waple said. "For the Army not to take jurisdiction over this case violates that philosophy. That's the bottom line."

Waple said he believed the military would take the case if he could persuade civilian prosecutors to release jurisdiction.

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The shooting came while Eisenhauer was assigned to Ft. Bragg's Warrior Transition Battalion, which provides long-term care to wounded or injured soldiers. He entered the unit last August, but his mother, Dawn Erickson, said he received virtually no PTSD treatment beyond a weekly group therapy session — even though he was diagnosed as "high risk" to himself or others.

Instead, she said, Eisenhauer, 30, was overloaded with powerful drugs — and scheduled to begin a 12-week intensive PTSD therapy program away from Ft. Bragg this spring.

"'Why did they wait from last August to the next spring to schedule him for the therapy he needed?" Erickson asked in an interview near Central Prison. "He wasn't getting any of the therapies the military recommends for PTSD. All they did was pump him full of painkillers."

Waple said two private psychiatrists who had examined Eisenhauer and his medical records said the soldier believed he was under insurgent attack the night of the shooting.

Eisenhauer "was in very bad shape and inclined for reality becoming discontinuous, with the flashback of insurgents rushing in, this time towards his door," one psychiatrist wrote to Waple.

Further, the soldier was deeply troubled by the loss of close friends to insurgents. After one truck bomb attack, his mother said, he helped collect body parts of buddies.

Waple said he found a journal entry in Eisenhauer's apartment that read: "And so another day around people I don't know with loud bangs … that bring me to my flashbacks."

In another entry, Eisenhauer wrote that he was hyperventilating and crying almost daily: "I feel withdrawn like a caged lion."

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