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Iraq vet's criminal trial tears a small town in two

Published February 20, 2011 1:44 pm

Military • Community asks: Is former soldier a victim or victimizer?
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Pahrump, Nevada • The back three rows of Judge John Lane's courtroom were filled with grim-faced deputies, sidearms at the ready.

The victim in the Tuesday morning sentencing was a cop. And the defendant was a combat veteran of the war in Iraq.

To many, it seemed, a line had been drawn in the sand of this desert town — in one corner, community; in the other, country — and everyone had taken a side.



'This will never go away' • Patrick Lamoureux was drinking Sept. 18, 2008, and may have had a volatile concoction of up to 12 prescribed drugs in his system when he argued with his wife, grabbed his gun, fired into her computer and stormed out of their trailer at Terrible's Lakeside RV Park in Pahrump, Nev.

As Nye County sheriff's deputies arrived, Lamoureux fired from the shadows of a tree-lined berm, pinning down several officers as others rushed to the scene. Deputy Eric Murphy was directed to the top of the berm, from where it was believed he could fall in behind the shooter.

But Lamoureux had the upper ground. Hiding behind a boulder, he waited for Murphy to pass, then fired three times into the deputy's back from just yards away.

Murphy survived his physical wounds — which a county prosecutor calls "nothing short of a miracle" — but the attack has taken a psychological toll.

"Every day I have to get up and go to the shower and go to the mirror and I see the scars from the three rounds I took," Murphy said at the sentencing. "This will never go away."

Lamoureux was shot once in each leg, but he didn't give up until he had exhausted 53 shots from his semi-automatic rifle and eight more from his sidearm.

"I'm out," he finally said as he sat up from his hiding spot and stretched his hands over his head, according to prosecutors.

Officers stepped forward to render aid to the man who had shot one of their own.

'The capacity to understand' • More than 2 million men and women have served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Military health officials estimate that hundreds of thousands suffer psychological trauma related to their service.

"Unfortunately, many times, the first time anyone knows that anything is wrong is when these veterans come into contact with law enforcement," said Darin Farr, a former Marine infantryman. During a stint as an outreach specialist for the Utah Department of Veterans Affairs, he produced a video used nationwide to help public safety officers understand psychologically wounded warriors.

Salt Lake City police Detective Ron Bruno has used that video to help Utah officers learn to respond safely and compassionately to those with mental health issues, including distraught veterans.

But for crisis techniques to work, "the person you are speaking with has to have the capacity to understand what is happening around them," he said. And when people are being threatened or attacked, he said, officers must protect themselves and others.

That's what Nye County sheriff's officers believed they had done: They rushed into the line of fire to stop a gunman even after one of their own had been seriously wounded, and they brought the suspect in alive.

But in the Nevada news media and at local gathering places, the focus was almost immediately on Lamoureux's plight as a mentally ill combat veteran and his experiences — the loss of a close comrade, the gruesome death of a young Iraqi girl. Family members blamed the soldier's rampage on a psychotropic cocktail of at least a dozen medications prescribed by Veterans Affairs doctors.

Concerned that Lamoureux wouldn't get the zealous defense he deserved, an anonymous citizen paid for the services of lawyer-to-the-stars Mickey Sherman, who was among the first attorneys in America to successfully use post traumatic stress disorder as a defense in the case of a Vietnam veteran accused of killing a man over a parking dispute.

"It was all about Lamoureux," said one deputy who attended the hearing, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized by the department to speak to the media. "And it was all crap. And we knew it. But nobody wanted to hear that side of the story. That guy shot a cop. He wasn't a hero. He was the bad guy."

The night of April 26, 2010, seemed to come as one final, devastating insult. Sheriff's Deputy Ian Deutch, who had been involved in the firefight with Lamoureux, returned to the same RV park responding to reports of a woman being threatened by an armed man. Deutch was shot three times and killed.

Deutch, a reservist with the Army's 221st Cavalry, had just returned to duty in Nye County after a combat tour in Afghanistan.

"You want me to tell you about a hero — a real hero?" asked the deputy, pointing to a sign outside the courthouse and county government complex, renamed in Deutch's honor. "That's the guy, right there."

'A very difficult decision' • The case languished in Nevada District Court, stalled by an almost unbelievable series of events: Deutch's tragic death, the scandal-driven resignation of the county's former prosecutor, the arrest of one of the officers involved in the shootout, the indictment of Lamoureux's prominent attorney for tax evasion and the death of the judge who had been presiding over the case.

As they waited for a resolution to the case, supporters of the accused soldier and his victims quarreled on Internet message boards, sometimes arguing over the relative merits of military and police service.

"A lot of these police officers will go their entire career without ever firing their weapons except for on the range," Lamoureux's wife, Sue, said before the sentencing hearing. "They couldn't understand what our soldiers go through."

At the sentencing, many officers did not hide their antipathy. Some rolled their eyes, others muttered profanities as Lamoureux spoke of the effect of his military service and begged the judge for "mercy." Another made a crude gesture as one of Lamoureux's attorneys asked the judge to consider the pain of being shot in both legs as part of the punishment that Lamoureux had already suffered.

Lamoureux's plea deal cut a potential life sentence down to no more than 22 years. And the ultimate sentence, it appeared, could hinge on one question: To what extent had Lamoureux's experiences in Iraq played into his violence in Nevada?

Prosecutor Kirk Vitto believed he had the answer: None whatsoever.

During the hearing, Vitto tore apart many of the claims that had led to Lamoureux's PTSD diagnosis, using the soldier's medical records against him. Senior soldiers who had served with Lamoureux disavowed his assertion that a young Iraqi girl had blown herself up near one of the trucks in his convoy. They also said they had no record of a rocket-propelled grenade attack that Lamoureux claimed had damaged a vehicle in which he was riding.

Vitto suggested that Lamoureux had made up the stories to game the Veterans Affairs benefits system, and that his real problem was alcoholism.

The defense put on just one witness: Lamoureux's brother, Col. Christopher Lamoureux, a former deputy commander at Fort Douglas, an Army Reserve post in the Wasatch foothills overlooking downtown Salt Lake City.

'It's not supposed to bother you' • Col. Lamoureux said he knew there was little he could do to sway the judge's verdict. So he didn't ask for mercy for his brother.

"You have a very difficult decision," he told the judge. "I don't envy you — but I trust you."

Minutes later, Lane ordered Lamoureux to spend up to 10 years in prison.

At Fort Douglas, Col. Lamoureux was responsible for the well-being of nearly 2,000 soldiers, and he had seen hundreds return from combat with the symptoms of PTSD. So when his brother returned from Iraq, Col. Lamoureux quickly recognized that something was wrong.

"This is an epidemic," he said after the sentencing, picking at a slice of cherry pie at a casino diner before beginning an eight-hour trip home to Alpine. "I have no doubt that my brother had PTSD."

Col. Lamoureux noted that a former platoon commander of his brother's had written to the judge, describing three incidents in which Lamoureux had taken fire in Iraq. None of them resembled the stories the soldier had told VA doctors about the young Iraqi girl and the rocket-propelled grenade attack. But Col. Lamoureux said the inconsistencies in his brother's stories were not altogether unusual.

He had seen such horror story-telling before, he said, among the soldiers of two mortuary affairs units in his command.

"People would say to them, 'What's your problem? Death is your job and you're supposed to be able to handle it. It's not supposed to bother you.' And so these soldiers would come back home and start making up stories," Col. Lamoureux said. Those stories were lies, he said, but they were meant to justify — to the soldiers and to those who were judging them — the extreme pain they were feeling.

Col. Lamoureux believes his brother's alcohol use was not the problem, but a symptom of PTSD.

Given the 2½ years his brother has already spent behind bars and the paucity of mental health care in Nevada's state prison, Col. Lamoureux said he had hoped that the judge would order probation.

And yet, he said, he could find no fault with Lane's sentence.

"He had an awful lot to balance in that decision," Col. Lamoureux said. "And the bottom line is that nobody would have been shot on that night if Patrick hadn't started it all."

In the wake of the sentencing, Col. Lamoureux said, he hoped that everyone would be able to put aside their anger, frustration and hostility.

There was at least one sign that might be happening.

As Lamoureux was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs and leg shackles, Deputy Murphy and Detective David Boruchowitz approached the convicted man's brother.

"Thank you for your service," they said to Col. Lamoureux.

"Thank you," he responded, "for not killing my brother."

And with that, the three men shook hands and parted ways.

mlaplante@sltrib.com —

After a deadly encounter, relief.

It wasn't long after he recovered from the shock of learning his brother had been killed by a police officer in downtown Salt Lake City that Shane Barrett resolved to meet the man who pulled the trigger.

Barrett was angry at the military for what he considered virtually abandoning his brother after he showed signs of distress following a brutal combat tour of duty in Afghanistan. But he felt no malice toward Sgt. Uppsen Downes, who had just stepped out of his patrol car in response to a report of a man with a gun on Aug. 27 when he was shot in the leg by the heavily armed soldier decked out in full combat armor.

Downes fired three shots in return, striking Brandon Barrett once in the head to end the gunfight and the troubled soldier's life.

"Officer Downes did exactly what he was supposed to do in that situation," said Shane Barrett, a police officer in Tucson, Ariz. "And you know, this may sound strange, but ultimately he did what Brandon wanted him to do. Brandon was looking to commit suicide by cop. He wanted to end his life."

Shane Barrett wasn't certain that Downes would want to meet with the family of the man he had killed. And even after learning that the officer has consented to the meeting at the Salt Lake City police headquarters, Barrett worried that Downes would change his mind.

"It was such a relief to see him walk through the door," Barrett said. "That was my first reaction — relief. I knew that he hadn't been badly injured, but just to be able to see and know that he was OK, that made me feel good."

The two men approached one another. They shook hands. They embraced.

Downes, a former Army soldier, expressed sadness for the loss of a fellow veteran. Barrett told Downes that he understood the officer had no choice but to fire back at his brother.

– Matthew D. LaPlante —

Utah Legislature: Noting veterans

HB86 • A bill that would allow Utahns who have served in the military to have their veteran status noted on their driver license received a favorable recommendation from the House Government Operations Committee last week. House Bill 86 is being sponsored by Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper. It has the support of Utah Department of Veterans Affairs Director Terry Schow, who said the notation could alert public safety officers to individuals who have served in the military. It also would be useful for businesses and government agencies that offer discounts to military vets, he said.

 

 

 

 

 

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