What began on the eve of Election Day 2008 as an attempt to draw attention to veterans’ issues ended on Thursday morning in a plea bargain for EdwardKyle Joseph Van Tassel. Having been arrested for brandishing an unloaded pistol on the La Cumbre overpass on November 3 - resulting in a standoff that lasted for hours, much to the chagrin of motorists on Highway 101 - Van Tassel had been charged with a slew of felonies, all but two of which were dismissed as part of the bargain.
While the penalty for the remaining two charges could have result in three years at state prison, Judge Brian Hill instead ordered a five-year probation, 200 hours of community service, and a $500 donation to a memorial fund for four Oakland police officers slain in the line of duty. “I think that justice has been served,” said Darryl Perlin of the District Attorney’s Office. “A degree of mercy has been shown to Mr. Van Tassel. He won’t have to serve any jail time and will be able to focus on his treatment.”
Looking far different from the thin, bald, jumpsuit-clad man who clasped his hands penitently immediately following his much-publicized arrest, Van Tassel looked more relaxed at yesterday’s proceedings. Van Tassel sported khaki trousers, a blue button-down shirt, and a fresh military haircut. He was still adamant that he wants to help veterans returning from the Middle East, but also said that the way he initially went about doing it was inappropriate. When asked how he felt about Hill’s decision, he said, simply, “Grateful.” “He wanted to apologize to the city. It was a very bad thing to do. He just wanted to tell people about the veterans,” said Patria Fuentes Van Tassel, his mother.
For the past couple of months, Van Tassel has been receiving residential treatment at the Community Care facility in Duarte, California. Although he was initially held in Santa Barbara County Jail following his arrest, the Iraq War veteran’s diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) by Army medical staff when he was discharged from the military eventually led to his transfer to the Veterans Administration Hospital in West Los Angeles.
Though the facility was designated as being “secure,” his stay wasn’t without some hiccups. When Van Tassel was originally released on $50,000 bail on November 12 - along with the condition that he be kept in a supervised mental health facility - this particular one was not locked at night. Van Tassel ended up leaving on several occasions to visit the home of fim star Tom Cruise, in what he said was an effort to get the actor to speak about veterans’ issues. Faced with potentially being sent back to County Jail, the incident caused a few tense moments, but Judge George Eskin, who initially presided over the case, ordered Van Tassel to be transferred to a locked facility without further penalty for leaving his treatment facility.
After Eskin reduced the amount of Van Tassel’s bail from $250,000 to $50,000 and allowed several changes of treatment facilities, an apparent rift formed between Perlin and Eskin, and the case was transferred to Hill’s court at Perlin’s request. “Judge Eskin’s approach to the case got it completely off track and caused considerable problems, but that’s done with and I focus on where we’re headed now - to help Mr. Van Tassel become a productive and successful member of society,” Perlin said.
Between now and his sentencing - which is scheduled for June 4 - Van Tassel will remain at Community Care Center, with a determination to be made in the near future as to what the next step of his treatment will be. Van Tassel’s attorney, Robert Landheer, said that he hopes they will be able to get him transferred to a veterans’ facility in Ventura that deals with PTSD patients, but Perlin said that he would like the Probation Department make that determination. “It’s up to the Probation Department to decide how to best supervise someone on probation. Probation takes everything into consideration, but the VA also has some say,” he said. As his current facility supports many civilian patients, Van Tassel indicated he preferred the camaraderie of other military veterans to be part of his daily routine.