STREETSBORO, Ohio — Click here for our previous coverage of this story.
So much was hard to comprehend in the case of Ohio v. Joseph Carson.
All the U.S. Army veteran and his wife wanted was mental health treatment.
So, why would the Portage County court system block him from getting help for his PTSD, opting instead to keep him incarcerated under an untenable $250,000 cash bond for 191 days?
He’s had post-traumatic stress disorder, and declared disabled, ever since he came home from Iraq in 2005 with a Purple Heart after taking gunfire in his leg.
There’s more. Why would Portage County prosecutors charge him with eight counts of felonious assault and a felony domestic violence count after slicing his arm in a Nov. 11 suicide attempt. Why would the judge block him for months from seeing or even talking on the phone to his children?
The indictment names his wife and seven kids – all under 18 – as his victims, even though Carson never seriously harmed them, let alone tried to hurt them with a deadly weapon, as the state’s felony assault count alleges?
On Wednesday, Portage County prosecutors ended the mystery.
“My first concern was not Joseph,” assistant prosecutor Steve Michniak said during the hearing. “My first concern was his family and the safety of his family.”
Prosecutors dropped all 9 felony counts, allowing Carson to plead to two misdemeanors-domestic violence and aggravated menacing. Combined, that could bring a year prison. He’s expected to receive a suspended jail term when he’s sentenced at a later date.
Prosecutors acknowledged Carson has already served more than half a year as his case lingered in the courtroom of Judge Becky Doherty. Carson will remain in treatment at the VA in Cleveland.
The state’s expression of concern, Deseray Carson said, was extreme and unnecessary, and in contradiction to the delays her husband faced in getting into the VA for treatment.
“It should never have taken this long to get my husband mental health help,” she said. “All we ever wanted was for him to get help. That’s it. But instead, they denied him treatment and kept him in jail.”
Carson, 36, was intoxicated, distraught and disgruntled on Veterans Day 2018 when he was arrested by Streetsboro police after his suicide attempt.
The officers’ body cams captured them talking about how they could “stack” charges against Carson to ensure he remained jailed as long as possible. Like prosecutors, police say they were trying to protect Carson’s family, not artificially inflate the charges.
Carson’s family, and local defense attorneys who reviewed the case at the request of Channel 3 News, say the eight felony assault charges were grossly inflated. At best, defense attorneys said, the cases amounted to the exact charges Carson pleaded guilty to on Wednesday.
On the day he was arrested, Carson did not receive mental health treatment, despite the suicide attempt. He was evaluated at a local hospital following the incident. He then went directly to the Portage County Jail and remained for over six months.
He has one prior domestic violence conviction, but police have been called to the Carson home on several occasions for various issues, most related to the vet’s mental health.
After his hearing Wednesday, attended by several supporters and his wife, Carson said he hopes his experience is a signal to fellow soldiers and the Portage County legal system.
He said he hopes Portage County, which has rebuffed invitations to start a specialty court for veterans, reconsiders and begins offering assistance to vets.
And he hopes veterans who need help, accept the help.
“Mental health. If you’re a retired vet, if you think there’s anything wrong, do see a provider and be honest with them. Don’t try and play the tough guy role,” Carson said. “PTSD is a real thing. It’s not just something that people say to make excuses for some they did wrong.
“It’s a mental illness. It changes our mind chemistry. But there’s help out there. Take it.”