Edward Van Tassel, the 28-year-old Iraq War veteran who last month shut down Highway 101 for several hours while he waved a gun on the La Cumbre Street overpass, is now in a secure veteran’s hospital facility in Los Angeles after multiple visits to the home of actor Tom Cruise and a diagnosis last week that he was gravely disabled.
Dr. Jonathan Sherin, director of hospital programs for Veteran Affairs of Greater Los Angeles, told Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge George Eskin Monday that a December 10 evaluation revealed signs and symptoms of mania as well as schizoaffective and bipolar disorders.
Van Tassel, who is facing weapons charges as well as a charge of resisting arrest, had his bail reduced by Eskin last month on the condition that Van Tassel receive treatment for possible mental health issues at a Veteran Affairs campus in Los Angeles. While the facility has an open-door policy, Eskin indicated he was under the impression Van Tassel wouldn’t be allowed to leave.
But Van Tassel did leave, allegedly traveling a short distance to Cruise’s Beverly Hills home on three separate occasions. There, according to Van Tassel’s attorney, Robert Landheer, Van Tassel sought to give the actor a book by Bruce Lee along with a letter asking him to support veterans. While prosecutor Darryl Perlin at a December 10 hearing likened Van Tassel’s activities to those of a celebrity stalker, Sherin said Monday Van Tassel showed a need for treatment. “His diagnosis is not a good one,” Sherin said. “It’s irreversible but treatable.” Sherin cited Van Tassel’s intelligence, support system, his remorse for his behavior, and his own acknowledgement that he has a mental illness as steps in the right direction.
Van Tassel, after a 72-hour evaluation, is now being held over for a 14-day evaluation that concludes December 27. As it is now, Van Tassel is in a locked ward, a highly structured and monitored section of the hospital. The doctor described it as a “therapeutic environment” with 10 to 15 beds and common areas where he can interact with other veterans in the facility. His visitors are monitored. “The patient feels he’s benefiting from the current treatment,” Sherin said. Although Van Tassel-who served in the Army for about 30 months-is there voluntarily, he still won’t be able to leave the facility until his stint is up.
Based on evaluations of Van Tassel’s condition, Veteran Affairs doctors will more than likely apply for a longer conservatorship that would keep Van Tassel in treatment into the new year. “It’s very likely Mr. Van Tassel will require a more lengthy stay,” Sherin said.
The doctor indicated he believes Van Tassel to be disabled to the point that he cannot provide food, clothing, or shelter for himself safely. “His ability to develop and follow through with a plan for self-care is inadequate in our opinion,” Sherin said.
Prosecutor Kim Smith, sitting in for Perlin, said on December 15 that Van Tassel had clearly violated the conditions of his release on bail when he left the facility. She also said the man was a threat to public safety and possibly himself. It was the prosecution’s contention that Van Tassel be placed back in Santa Barbara County Jail.
But Sherin’s testimony seemed to calm the judge, who, despite initial concerns about the fact that Van Tassel hadn’t been transported to court for the hearing, was more contented to learn why. “Those concerns seem to be addressed and it’s not my intention to interfere with his treatment,” Eskin said. Instead, Eskin hiked Van Tassel’s bail back up to $250,000. A warrant was issued for his arrest, and Eskin indicated that it would not be enforced until after Van Tassel’s treatment at the hospital was complete, at which point he would be sent back to Santa Barbara to answer to the criminal charges.