The mental state of two Iraqi War veterans charged separately with recent violent crimes in the Santa Clarita Valley is being assessed by specially-trained medical personnel at a state mental hospital before their respective criminal cases are heard.
Jeremiah Charles Ditch, 35, of Santa Clarita, and Philip Scott Newlyn, 28, of Elk Grove near Sacramento, were each charged in separate bizarre incidents last year.
Ditch was arrested in December and faces several criminal charges including possession of an assault weapon after he allegedly forced his way into a Saugus home, armed with a handgun, forcing the family to cower inside a room.
Newlyn, awarded a Purple Heart medal in 2009 for pulling his fellow soldier from a burning Humvee, was arrested in August and stands accused of trying to kill a Los Angeles Police Department motorcycle officer by ramming him repeatedly with a truck.
Both soldiers – respected by those who served with them – were each ordered to undergo evaluations a week after being criminally charged, to undergo testing to determine their mental competency, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said.
Newlyn was sent to the Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino for psychological assessment in August. Ditch was sent there last week.
“A doubt was declared as to his (Ditch’s) competency,” Ricardo Santiago, spokesman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office told The Signal.
“He is being evaluated in Dept. 95 mental health court,” he said. “His next court date is for an update on the mental health court proceedings on Wednesday Jan. 25 in Department G.”
If the veterans did the things they’re accused of, what drove them to do it?
Questions such as this which speak to state of mind, are the type of question addressed at the place prosecutors refer to as “Department 95.”
Department 95 deals specifically with cases involving insanity and mental competency, according to documents published by the Superior Court of California, Los Angeles County.
For at least one Iraqi war veteran, the answer is rooted in the trauma suffered by veterans during their wartime experience.
Fellow soldier, Mike Andersen, served in Iraq in the same military unit with Ditch.
“Here you have a 22-year-old kid asked to kill people on a daily basis,” Andersen told The Signal Thursday. “And, on a daily basis be expected to protect each other.
“Then he comes back and you expect him to function like a normal human being.”
Post-traumatic stress disorder. The term has worked its way into our day-to-day lexicon.
The actual condition, however, has yet to receive the attention it demands from the Veterans Administration where psychologically wounded soldiers – as Andersen is convinced applies to Ditch – go for help.
In a letter dated July 10, 2013, addressed to Ditch from the Department of Veterans Affairs, a copy of which was obtained by The Signal, shows Ditch being compensated as of February 2011. The claim, according to Andersen, was for injuries Ditch suffered which include PTSD and traumatic brain injury, TBI.
According to Andersen, he and Ditch – age 20 and 22 – when they were deployed to Iraq with the 27th Infantry, were not the same people that returned to America.
“Ditch had a buddy that was shot right next to him in a tower,” Andersen said. “He also saw lot of other friends shot and killed; some blown up.
“He was a good kid,” he said. “There are hundreds of guys, including high-ranking guys, ready to support him.”
It’s the job of Department 95, however, to inform the court of Ditch’s mental competency on the day his alleged crime occurred.
On Dec. 10, a Saugus family endured 22 minutes of terror when they barricaded themselves inside an upstairs bedroom listening to the gunman — a stranger — try to kick down their front door.
“At five o’clock in the morning I heard this banging at the door and the doorbell ringing. I looked through the peep hole and saw this guy with his back to me, holding a gun and aiming at the homes across the street,” said the Saugus resident.
“I’m freaking out. So I run upstairs and call 911. After I make the call, I go back downstairs and get two knives, then I run back upstairs and we all barricade ourselves in the bedroom,” he said.
The resident, his wife, their 15-year-old daughter and their two dogs huddled inside the room as the intruder continued to kick the front door.
Terrified, the family pushed a bed against the bedroom door.
“I removed the screen of our bedroom window so that we could jump from the second floor,” the resident said.
Twenty minutes after the ordeal began, the gunman finally broke into house.
“I yelled down that I had a gun even though I didn’t,” the resident said. “He kicked the door to the point that the (door) frame failed,” he said.
Deputies with the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station arrived within two minutes of the gunman entering the house and arrested the intruder.
They arrested Jeremiah Charles Ditch – the man who was granted compensation by the Department of Veterans Affairs in 2013.
The bizarre incident involving an Iraqi War veteran echoed an equally bizarre incident that left officers of the California Highway Patrol scratching their heads.
On the morning of Aug. 17, a veteran officer of the Los Angeles Police Department – with 12 years of motorcycle experience – was injured and taken to Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital after being struck several times by a white full-size pickup truck, investigators said at the time.
Later that day CHP officers arrested former Air Force Staff Sergeant Philip Scott Newlyn.
Newlyn, like Ditch, had returned to America from Iraq having survived an intense wartime experience.
Newlyn, who nearly lost his leg during an attack in Iraq, was given a hero’s welcome in December 2009, when he arrived in Sacramento from the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
He had been serving a one-year tour in Iraq with the 9th Security Forces Squadron, which provides security for convoys, patrols and aircraft.
On Sept. 15, 2009, Newlyn was travelling with a convoy from a U.S. military base near Baghdad. An improvised explosive device detonated near his Humvee.
Newlyn, who was himself injured, pulled the Humvee’s driver – rendered unconscious by the explosion – from the damaged vehicle.
What was he thinking when the LAPD motorcycle officer was repeatedly struck, as investigators claim?
On Feb. 8, officials from Department 95 are expected to have that answer and reveal in San Fernando Superior Court their conclusions about Newlyn’s mental competency.
on Twitter @jamesarthurholt