The intention is to pay tribute to the brave men who go forth to fight our nation's battles and condemn the injustice they face upon return. We do not wish to speak ill of the deceased but to encourage the development of better methods of dealing with, and preventing tragedies like this.
If we accept the premise that a primary mission of the justice system is to provide for public safety then the unfortunate history of Paul Charbell Boulos provides a depressing example of how our courts are failing both veterans and the public weal.
Paul Boulos entered the Army from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in March 1999 at age 24 and served until March 2012, rising to the rank of staff sergeant. During his enlistment he endured three combat infantry tours in Iraq and was highly decorated.
His problems with the Colorado justice system began in July-August 2001 with a couple of traffic tickets in Denver and another one in May 2002. He also had some trouble with an apartment complex in Arapahoe County in 2003, the sort of problems many young soldiers have.
Life really started downhill for Paul Boulos before his third combat tour in 2010. On February 26, 2010 his wife Marina filed charges of domestic violence  against him including criminal mischief, obstruction of telephone service, and harassment claiming he shoved, struck, or kicked her. On the following day he was charged with twice violating the mandatory protection order.
But troubles with his wife were just beginning and on March 3, 2010, Marina was granted a temporary restraining order against Paul. That order was vacated on March 15th. But probably with the help of her attorney or TESSA, Marina immediately filed for, and was granted another temporary restraining order the same day. The second order was vacated on April19th.
During this Marina filed for divorce on March 12, 2010, and custody and financial battles in the divorce continued until October 22, 2012. With a domestic violence conviction for Paul custody of their daughter went to Marina.
There can be little doubt that Paul Boulos was engaged in heavy combat during his three tours in Iraq. Together with the emotional devastation of a divorce and losing his child he certainly suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It would be remarkable if he didn't also suffer from multiple traumatic brain injuries (TBI) after years of combat.
Somehow Paul managed to stay out of the justice system after his third combat tour in Iraq until July 2011. But then his life completely disintegrated and the El Paso County, Colorado, jail and court records show the following:
He was arrested and booked into the Criminal Justice Center (CJC) on July 14, 2011, and charged (case no.2011CR2374) with 18 counts of F4 felonies involving false information to a pawnbroker and theft/series-$200-$10,000 including domestic violence.
Booked into CJC on October 19, 2011, and again charged with an F4 felony for theft $1,000-$20,000 and false information by seller to a pawnbroker. The booking charges are apparently a continuation of case number2011CR2374 and a result of the summons issued in the civil suit.
CJC records show he was booked on January 9, 2012 and charged with an M1 misdemeanor for violation of a permanent restraining order most likely for attempting to visit his daughter. Apparently as a result of this Boulos missed a 9 AM Veteran Trauma Court (VTC) hearing on that date. But he also missed a hearing on January 12 th . There is no record of the disposition of the violation of the restraining order and that charge was apparently dropped.
After missing a number of court hearings he was admitted to the local veteran treatment court after finally attending a hearing on January 19, 2012. As required of all veterans in that court, he pled guilty to F4 felony theft and was given a deferred sentence on April 5, 2012. This case was closed on July 24, 2014, just three days before his death, apparently after he paid restitution of $17,321, court costs of $1,624, and completed 50 hours of community service.
Just one day later, on January 20, 2012, he was booked into CJC again, apparently as a result of missing hearings on case number 2011CR2374involving an F4 felony for theft-series - $1,000-$20,000 and false information by seller to a pawnbroker.
Following these multiple arrests Paul Boulos was reduced in rank to private (E-1) and, in lieu of a court martial, was separated from service under other than honorable conditions under Chapter 10 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) in March 2012.
Jailed again on January 17, 2013, apparently a continuation of case number 2011CR2374 involving felony theft. A review of his case was held on January 24, 2013, and he was released. Note that court records show his case was reviewed roughly every two weeks and Boulos often failed to appear. Such lapses are characteristic of individuals with traumatic brain injuries who don't have family or an advocate to insure they make appointments.
Arrested on April 23, 2014, and charged with DUI, reckless/aggressive driving, failing to report an accident, and leaving the scene of an accident. This case was still open when he died on July 27, 2014.
The available evidence strongly suggests that the cumulative strains of three combat tours in Iraq coupled with family destruction, together with his repeated incarcerations led to his premature death on July 27, 2014, presumptively from a heart attack, shortly after his fortieth birthday. He was also reported to be on a number of drugs, which is almost always true in cases like this.
In review it is basic to understand the purpose of a justice system. As summarized in an article by Richard Garside:
Boulos was not confined, deterred, or prevented in any way from committing additional crimes despite 18 counts of Level 4 and 6 felonies, as well as other misdemeanors including domestic violence and driving while intoxicated. F4 felonies in Colorado normally carry a 2 to 6 year prison sentence.
Given the Lautenberg Amendment the domestic violence conviction ended his military career after 13 years of exceptional service to his country.
In many cases the veteran's drivers license is revoked. But they still have to go to court hearings, visit their probation officer, provide urine or other samples to check for drugs, meet their therapist, and buy groceries and pickup their medications. Of course a traffic stop then sends them back to jail.
After a few arrests it becomes obvious that it is no big deal to spend a few days in jail, take a plea to some reduced charge, and be tossed back out on to the street. Of course these arrests and convictions make it impossible to stay in the military or hold a job.
The "catch, convict, and release" policy evident here provides no incentive for a defendant to remain law abiding after their release from custody. In fact, they often have no choice but to commit additional crimes in order to survive.
Veteran's problems are certainly worsened by a dysfunctional medical system in the county jail where their drug regime is repeatedly interrupted during multiple arrests. Such rapid deprivation magnifies drug reactions and depression and suicidal ideation have been reported as a result.
As did Paul Boulos, veterans who have experienced severe or prolonged combat die prematurely from various causes. And Iraq and Afghanistan veterans commonly saw three, four, five, or sometimes more combat tours.
It is estimated that at least 22 veterans a day commit suicide. These statistics only count cases where suicide is the stated cause of death and the individual is known to be a veteran. So actual suicides are certainly greater than published values.
Suicide is the factor most talked about but Katz (2013) points out that homelessness is as large a factor. And the relationship between homelessness and veteran arrests is unquestionable.
There are also many cases of premature deaths in veterans that are linked to the multitude of prescription drugs they are often prescribed. Of particular note are the fatalities associated with both legal and illegal drugs, notably opioids, veterans take for pain and relief from the multiple symptoms of PTSD.
The death of young veterans by heart attack is a problem that goes far beyond the case of Paul Boulos. This problem was reviewed by Rappaport (2012) based on the research of neurologist Fred Baughman, Jr. M.D., Fellow, American Academy of Neurology, and Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Dr. Baughman refers to these cases as Soldiers Dead In Bed and as of September 2014 he has tabulated over 400 such cases. As he notes, this is far from a complete list and the problem continues unabated. Seroquel (an antipsychotic) is the drug most frequently linked to these deaths but other antipsychotic and antidepressants have also been identified in such cases particularly when Paxil (antidepressant) and Klonopin (benzodiazepine) are prescribed and taken together. And the negative effects of these drugs are magnified when dosage is suddenly interrupted, as for example; the veteran is thrown in jail.
Accidents, often deliberate, and alcoholism also account for numerous, but usually uncounted veteran deaths as reviewed by Alan Zarembo in a December 2013 article in the LA Times.
The cumulative impact is horrific. Between 2,709,918 to 3,173,845 American veterans served in-country and in interior waters of Vietnam between 1954 and 1975 (American War Library, 2007). Yet less than one third of the veterans who survived ground combat in Vietnam are alive today although most would only be in their 60s or early 70s. For example, see the discussion by Duff (2009).
The prognosis for current veterans is no more favorable. Already it is estimated that more have died from suicide than in combat in both wars. The "catch, convict, and release" policy of our local justice system ensures that thousands of our veterans will become homeless and almost certainly suffer an early death.
The Equal Justice Foundation has been collecting and tabulating veteran arrests since July 2010. Some factors stand out in the data:
The majority of the arrests are for domestic violence and traffic infractions. Under current laws every manifestation of PTSD is "domestic violence" if the veteran is in a relationship.
As noted previously, quite commonly veteran's driver licenses are revoked. But they are still required to make court hearings, visit their probation officers, take drug tests, to say nothing of needing groceries, etc., which can often only be done by driving in today's world. So they are arrested again, and often again for driving without a license and related charges.
Although both medical and recreational marijuana are legal in Colorado veterans frequently have their probation revoked if they use that drug. Or, having committed new crimes, their probation is revoked. The veteran is then back in the county jail for days, weeks, or months and likely with new convictions on their record.
In pushing to establish a veteran treatment court (VTC) here in 2008 a major selling point was the promise that it would reduce recidivism and thereby increase public safety.
Less than 3% of the veterans known to have been arrested since the court was stood up in 2010 were admitted to the VTC so there cannot have been a meaningful reduction in recidivism with such a small fraction participating.
Multiple arrests of many veterans after being admitted to the VTC are known to have occurred, of which Boulos is but one example. So there is currently no evidence that the VTC has or will reduce recidivism as presently constituted.
While data analysis has not been completed, preliminary results show the same negative results regarding public safety with other veterans as in the Boulos case. One woman in the VTC has been arrested five times in four years for driving under the influence, certainly presenting a great hazard to the public. Another male veteran in the VTC has been jailed fifteen times in the four-plus years we've been accumulating the data.
However, once convicted, and a plea bargain is a conviction, the evidence is clear that a veteran will find it difficult, if not impossible to find a job. And even if he does the conditions of his parole are likely to make it unlikely that he can keep it. Add to that the likely rearrests and the odds of a successful reintegration into society are near zero with the current system.
It would be the opposite of our intent to think we are suggesting we should lock up veterans like Paul Boulos and throw away the key, as was done in many cases with Vietnam veterans. Instead we need to find and implement better ways and means for traumatized and wounded veterans to reintegrate into society and stabilize their behavior.
It is also critical to note that our, and other studies have found that PTSD commonly occurs, or reoccurs years and decades after the trauma. Solutions must therefore encompass lifelong treatment.
Bring more groups and individuals on board to help with these problems. History plainly shows veteran problems are not well dealt with by limiting these cases to the justice system. There are numerous agencies and charities dealing with these problems in El Paso County, Colorado, who we are certain would be glad to help.
Do an evaluation and begin any necessary treatment the first time a veteran comes to the attention of law enforcement. As noted, this is quite likely to occur many years or decades after the veteran leaves the military and post-deployment evaluations have not proven to be conclusive. Also, combat isn't necessary for a veteran to have developed PTSD, TBI, or other trauma/injuries while in the military. Sexual assaults, accidents, various training injuries, etc. can all result in post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries.
For driving under the influence of alcohol cases provide an interlock in their car to prevent driving drunk. Interlocks are cheaper than jail but penalties for disabling the interlock must be severe.
Allow, nay encourage the use of medical marijuana (MMJ). MMJ has proven to be the safest and most effective drug available for treatment of sleeplessness, irrational anger, and many other manifestations of PTSD.s
Currently if the criminal case against a veteran is dismissed or they are acquitted they are not likely to be evaluated or treated for military injuries. But they are certainly further traumatized by the justice system.
Often times the veteran is in court with civil or domestic problems, e.g., divorce, that may well lead to criminal charges, e.g., domestic violence. Without a clinical intercept at the beginning of their tribulations in the civilian justice system the odds of criminal behavior are greatly increased. The same is true for minor violations, e.g., a traffic ticket that may be a precursor to later criminal activity. Evaluations such as the Mississippi Scale for PTSD can be done fairly rapidly and at low cost. Though no guarantee, such evaluations could lead to early treatment and reduced criminal activity.
Develop a diversion program with the sheriff to take veterans with minor charges directly to a treatment center rather than jail. Jail simply traumatizes them further. Veterans with petty and traffic offenses shouldn't be ending up in the county jail. However, it could well be advisable and practical to take such cases to the proposed treatment center for an evaluation. Or the ticket issued by a peace officer could order them to report there as is now done for a court appearance.
Many cases could be moved from the current practice of imposing a deferred sentence conviction to pretrial diversion as defined in C.R.S. §18-1.3-101. In 2013 the Colorado legislature (HB13-1156, amended in 2014 by SB14-206) revised the pretrial diversion statute to make it much more favorable to such an approach. Under this statute charges are dismissed if and when restitution and treatment are completed. As no conviction shows on the veteran's record this would greatly facilitate the veteran's reintegration into society and, thus, increase public safety. Only the intransigence of the district attorney prevents taking this approach.
Insofar as possible consolidate court actions for veterans under one judge for consistent adjudication or judgment. It is clear that Paul Boulos went before at least fourteen different judges as the justice system hounded him to death.
The current system traps many veterans, and often their families, in El Paso County, Colorado, without any extended family support that might be available in their hometowns. Where evidence exists that a veteran's extended family is willing and able to provide needed support, and suitable medical facilities are available there, arrange to transfer the parole of appropriate veterans to their hometowns. Or if an evaluation determines the veteran is likely to cause further problems if left unsupported here, then help them return to their extended family if they are amenable. That approach would definitely save El Paso County considerable crimes and money.
1. Note that in Colorado misdemeanor charges range from M1 to M3 and felony charges range from F1 (first-degree murder) to F6. Domestic violence is not a crime in and of itself but a classification applied when any other crime involves intimate partners and additional and special penalties apply.