By: E&P Staff
Earlier this week, Megan Greenwell of The Washington Post uncovered the tragic story of a local veteran of the war in Afghanistan who became mentally unstable after getting new orders for Iraq — and was then shot and killed by police the day after Christmas. Although not an official “Iraq casualty,” he was another example of the growing fatal impact of that war.
Greenwell returns to the front page of the paper’s “B” section today with further details. Excerpts follow. The entire article can be found at www.washingtonpost.com.
James E. Dean’s first Christmas as a married man was supposed to be a joyous affair.
The man everyone called Jamie had received a diagnosis of depression, but things were looking up. He frequently told Muriel, his wife of four months, that she was the best thing that had ever happened to him. He had plans to celebrate his 29th birthday two days before the holiday. His parents and grandmother, to whom he was extremely close, lived just a few miles away in the same St. Mary’s County town — perfect for sharing Christmas dinner and opening presents together.
But everything good in Dean’s life had been overshadowed by a letter he received three weeks earlier. The letter, from U.S. Army headquarters, instructed him to report to Fort Benning, Ga., on Jan. 14. From there, he was likely to be sent to Iraq.
Dean had already fought in one war, serving 12 months as a sergeant, leading a small infantry unit on the front lines in Afghanistan. Army records show that he was an excellent soldier, and he had a fistful of awards to prove it: for service in defense of the nation, good conduct and outstanding marksmanship with rifles and grenades. He was such a good soldier, in fact, an Army spokesman said, that the military needed him back just three weeks after his first Christmas with his wife.
He couldn’t stomach the thought. His post-traumatic stress disorder, which was diagnosed shortly after he returned from Afghanistan, became worse immediately after he received the letter — and so did his drinking and his rages, family members said. He would break down in front of his wife, telling her over and over that nobody knew what it had been like.
“The next time you see me, it’s going to be in a body bag,” she said he told her as he walked out of their house for the last time.
On Christmas night, Dean drove to his childhood home on the farm where his parents still live. He took up one of his hunting guns and called his family; he said he was going to kill himself. Fourteen agonizing hours later, he was dead — not by his own bullet but by that of a Maryland state trooper.
Tim Cameron, the St. Mary’s County sheriff, said the 17-year veteran of the state police, who was not identified, had no choice but to shoot Dean. Dean had fired at three police vehicles and was pointing a gun at an officer. Once-promising negotiations with the man barricaded inside the house had stalled, and Dean was making threats to shoot everybody in sight. Besides, they couldn’t take any chances with a soldier who had won a medal for shooting Afghan insurgents.
“I am satisfied that throughout the night and the next day personnel did their job as policy, procedure and law dictates,” Cameron said.
Dean’s family disagrees. If the officers’ priority was to get Dean out safely, the family wanted to know, why were the people he trusted not allowed to talk to him? Why was his cellphone service cut off when he was trying to call his grandmother’s house? Why were they pushing him closer to the edge by pumping noxious gas into the house and breaking the windows?
The sheriff’s office and state police are both conducting investigations of what happened that night, as is standard procedure when an officer kills someone. Muriel Dean said she is speaking to a lawyer about the possibility of filing a formal complaint.
“It’s just all protocol to them,” she said. “This isn’t protocol to us; it’s a person.”
The one thing Dean’s family and the police agree upon is that his death is a tragic illustration of the effect that the war has had on some of the people who fight it.
As a young man, Dean fished, hunted and played baseball and football. He was always quiet and polite, rarely upset and never in trouble. He had volunteered for the Army in 2001, had been honorably discharged from active duty after his service in Afghanistan and was serving the final five years of his commitment as part of the reserve.
Tommy Bowes, who owns TN Bowes Heating and Air Conditioning, where Dean worked as an installer and service mechanic, said: “Every job we put him on we got rave reviews. Nobody can say a bad thing about him.”
Yet Dean’s time in Afghanistan changed him profoundly, his family and friends say — dimming his love for life in general, leaving him dependent on antidepressant medication, therapy and alcohol. His condition worsened after he stopped seeing his psychologist, his wife said, but her calls to the VA Medical Center begging doctors to contact her husband went unreturned. She asked for him to be put on disability leave because of his post-traumatic stress disorder, but that only led to more papers to be filled out.
Then Dean received his deployment letter, and his depression began to spiral out of control.