EdwardKyle Joseph Van Tassel – the Iraq veteran arrested for brandishing an unloaded pistol on the La Cumbre freeway overpass as part of a pro-Obama demonstration on the eve of national Election Day last November – had his sentence officially handed down by Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Brian Hill on Thursday. There were no surprises as Van Tassel received the sentence Hill had recommended when a plea bargain was reached on April 10. In addition to following the treatment recommendations of his doctors at a psychiatric center in Duarte, California, Van Tassel will be on probation for five years, must serve 200 hours of community service, and must donate $500 to a memorial fund dedicated to two slain Bay Area police officers.
“He wasn’t trying to cause harm to anyone but [to] reach out,” said defense attorney Robert Landheer, adding that people misinterpreted Van Tassel’s message – which he had said was to raise awareness about veterans’ issues – that day on the overpass.
Van Tassel’s supporters, which included a number of family members and friends, as well as veterans’ affairs and peace activist Lane Anderson and several Vietnam veterans, greeted him with emotional embraces as he left the courtroom. “It’s a miracle I’m alive, and I’m not one to waste miracles,” said Van Tassel of his hours-long showdown with a group of well-armed police officers on November 3. Throughout the legal proceedings, Landheer has been adamant that Van Tassel suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which caused his inappropriate behavior.
Landheer stressed that the judge’s decision was an important gain for veterans everywhere. “This wasn’t about putting someone into custody, but [about] managing a very complex problem,” he said. “When people come back [from war], they have psychological scars. Mr. Van Tassel is healing, and that’s really the best result we can hope for.” As far as continuing treatment goes, Landheer said that the doctor Van Tassel is working with has been very positive about his progress. Van Tassel is currently receiving therapy and taking medications to treat PTSD, though Landheer declined to comment what they were. Van Tassel said he was ready to do “whatever the community needs” toward the fulfillment of his community service hours when he is released from the psychiatric care facility.