Eddie Van Tassel, an Iraq War veteran, whose post-traumatic stress (PTSD) behavior in 2008 helped bring a veterans treatment court to southern Santa Barbara County, was arrested again on June 6, this time for animal cruelty. Van Tassel, now 37, was accused of wrapping rubber bands around the muzzle and hind legs of his puppy. At a hearing last week, Van Tassel argued he’d restrained his dog and placed him under a box because he was fighting a fire that had broken out in his Lompoc apartment. Van Tassel passed out from smoke inhalation and was hospitalized overnight. Animal control officer Jan Glick was not persuaded, noting that a veterinarian concluded the rubber bands had been on the dog, which is now in foster care, for 6-24 hours.
Van Tassel had previously been arrested when he stood on the overpass at La Cumbre and the 101, waving an unloaded handgun and an American flag during rush hour, forcing the highway to close down for hours. Van Tassel, it turned out, was attempting to highlight the plight of returning veterans. Dismissing his PTSD diagnosis as irrelevant, prosecutors tried to throw the book at him. George Eskin, the judge hearing the case, however, sentenced him to a psychiatric facility for military veterans.
Eskin later helped create a South Coast court for military veterans facing nonviolent criminal charges. If they agreed to enter and complete mental-health or substance-abuse treatment, charges would be reduced or dropped. Van Tassel’s current case also raises another mental-health issue. Although Van Tassel was released on June 19, at 4:06 a.m. from County Jail on a $20,000 bail — reportedly to county mental-health professionals who checked him into Cottage Hospital — his family had no idea where he had been taken. Medical confidentiality laws bar jail officials from releasing such information, even to family members. Advocates have been quietly pressing for jail discharge reforms, hoping to prevent this added stress on families of the mentally ill. It remains to be seen if this case will help their cause.