Psychologist David Mellinger diagnosed Eric Howley with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2006. According to court testimony, a specialist at the VA hospital in White River Junction made the same diagnosis.
"It's as if the nervous system is even more likely to misfire and say there is danger when there might not be," Mellinger said.
Mellinger said that condition, which causes sudden agitation, was a contributing factor for the alleged assault at Lake Raponda in Wilmington. Police say Howley roughed up Anton Pike and Mark Ellison while on duty last April. Howley believed they stole his canoe. Police say Howley repeatedly slammed Pike's head against the trunk of his cruiser, and then pushed Ellison into a rock, splitting his head open. But Howley says he can't remember certain details of the incident-- another symptom, according to the psychologist, of PTSD.
"It appeared that he had a trauma stress reaction, that there were gaps in his recollection," Mellinger said.
Howley pleaded no contest to the two counts of simple assault. Before accepting the agreement, Judge David Suntag said he has serious concerns about the implications the case has for the general public.
"It will affect the perception, the public perception of the judicial or law enforcement systems," the judge said.
Howley received a 6 to 16 month sentence, all suspended. He will be on probation for the next two years and also has to continue mental health treatment. He also had to agree never to work as a law enforcement officer again.
Howley's doctor says his PTSD is a result of his time in the military, made worse by Tropical Storm Irene. The Vermont State Police couldn't provide information about its policies on PTSD and couldn't comment specifically on Eric Howley because it's a personnel issue.