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PTSD And Crime: When Is Trauma To Blame?

Posted by Steve Karimi | Oct 20, 2017 | 0 Comments

The trauma of war can stay with a person long after he or she has left the battlefield. Veterans returning from various conflicts sometimes experience post-traumatic stress disorder. According to the National Center for PTSD, the number of veterans suffering from PTSD depends on the particular conflict that they participated in. For example, about 30% of those who served in Vietnam are estimated to “have had PTSD in their lifetime.” The numbers for the United States' most recent wars are not quite as high but are still considerable. It is estimated that “[a]bout 11-20 out of every 100 Veterans (or between 11-20%) who served in [Operation Iraqi Freedom] or [Operation Enduring Freedom] have PTSD in a given year.”

Unfortunately, sometimes a person suffering from PTSD may act out in a manner that causes harm to themselves or others. The Seattle Times recently reported on such a case involving a veteran who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The defendant, Damien Rodriguez, was involved in an incident at an Iraqi restaurant in Portland, Oregon this past spring. The restaurant, DarSalam, is owned by an Iraqi refugee and serves food such as falafel and kebab. On the night of the incident, Rodriguez allegedly walked in and took a seat at a corner table with his back against the wall. The Seattle Times stated that this is “typical behavior of veterans with PTSD.” He didn't order anything but, according to witnesses, after a few minutes “he said loudly that he had to get out of the restaurant.” Initially, the defendant tried a side door. When he found the door to be locked, he wrung his hands and “cursed about Iraq.” Rodriquez then suddenly “picked up a chair and hurled it a waiter.” The waiter fell to the floor, dazed. According to police reports, “the waiter had a sore shoulder but no visible marks.”

Rodriguez was subsequently charged with “felony-level hate crime and assault charges that carry a mandatory prison sentence.” His friends and family state, however, that “his actions were not provoked by hate but by post-traumatic stress disorder for which, despite repeated efforts, he never received effective treatment.” Rodriguez was deployed four times between 2004 and 2012 to both Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to the Seattle Times, one of his most traumatic experiences occurred early on, in 2004, when his platoon was ambushed in the streets of Ramadi, Iraq. Upon returning home, friends said that he “seemed drained.” Rodriguez “spoke little about what had happened, but couldn't sleep, and drank heavily.” In addition, he had “visions at night of dead Marines,” visited the graves of the fallen on anniversaries, and “weathered the blame from their families.” He would also “put in paperwork to award the men Bronze Stars, and hung the citations on his wall.”

According to records, Rodriguez repeatedly sought help from the Marine Corp. However, early on in the war, PTSD was not often formally diagnosed in veterans. This changed as time went on and Rodriguez was diagnosed with the disorder later on. However, he never was given “the type of evidence-based psychotherapy that is widely seen as the best treatment.” Instead, he learned to cope with his PTSD, but it flared up in April, the anniversary of the ambush and when he was drinking. It was after drinks in the spring that Rodriguez ended up in DarSalam.

While there “is no evidence that combat veterans are more prone to committing hate crimes . . . studies suggest combat veterans with PTSD commit violent acts at a much higher rate than civilians.” Many communities have recognized that a veteran who commits a crime may be “driven by experiences of war.” Because of this “more than 350 communities, including Portland, have created veterans trauma courts.” The idea behind these courts is “that if PTSD is managed, other problems will take care of themselves.” However, veterans who have committed violent crimes, like Rodriquez, are not eligible for the program. Rodriguez has already suffered consequences for his actions; he was forced to retire from the Marine Corps. It was after he was finally [f]reed from the pressure of his career” that Rodriguez sought help and “entered an intensive program for substance abuse and PTSD.” According to the Seattle Times, he doesn't consider himself to be prejudiced and has stated he is sorry for his actions and offered to apologize. However, the owner of the restaurant, who fled Iraq in 2005 after being put into a coma by a car bomb, is hesitant. He stated that the experience has created a lot of fear in his family and thinks that hate crimes charges are appropriate as the "restaurant was targeted because of his ethnicity." Rodriguez is scheduled to go to trial this December.

If you have been charged with a crime, such as assault, you want a competent and experienced attorney on your side. Steve Karimi has extensive experience defending those accused of crimes in Washington. Contact his office today for a free case consultation.

About the Author

Steve Karimi

Steve Karimi attended Pepperdine University School of Law. After graduation he worked as a prosecutor in Seattle where he gained valuable insight to the criminal justice system. Attorney Karimi uses his experiences as a prosecutor everyday only now he fights for the justice of those accused.


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Named a "rising star" in criminal defense by Washington Law and Politics magazine, Mr. Karimi is a former prosecutor for King County who uses his insight into prosecution strategies to protect his clients' rights in criminal court.