Inadequate prison care cited in Iraq war vet's early release
The Florida Times-Union
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — When Jason Snodgrass went to prison in May 2011, the 33-year-old former Army sergeant was suffering from brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder and had just undergone a spinal fusion.
His three-year sentence for an aggravated-assault charge was shortened to 14 months in July after prosecutors agreed with the Iraq war vet that he wasn’t getting the care he needed in prison for damage done in Iraq.
“If you are going to do the right thing, you need to be willing to adapt your position as facts change,” said Assistant State Attorney Richard Mantei. “Facts changed here.”
Just before going to prison, Snodgrass had a spinal fusion and implant of a remote-control- operated stimulator designed to help repair the damage, Mantei said.
He was supposed to have access to the control, but in moves from prison to prison, it either did not travel with him or he was denied its use, the prosecutor said.
“It seemed that either the facilities weren’t equipped or he didn’t get what he needed to address that condition,” he said.
Snodgrass was also not able to get needed psychological treatment for the PTSD, a psychologist told the state.
His conditions worsened in prison, Mantei said and the spinal fusion may have been weakening.
Snodgrass was sentenced after pleading guilty to aggravated assault involving a weapon for firing a gun in the air in a confrontation with neighbors at his Mandarin apartment complex.
At the time, he told the Times-Union he felt he should respond as if he were in Iraq, that someone was trying to engage him. He retrieved two guns and gave one to his father. Witnesses said they saw the two men point the guns at the neighbors on a balcony. The younger Snodgrass fired once into the air. No one was hurt.
Mantei said a legal issue also threatened the three-year sentence Snodgrass negotiated to avoid a possible 20-year minimum-mandatory prison term that comes with the gun charge.
When he was sentenced, his attorney at the time was also representing Snodgrass’ father, who had been charged in the shooting. The father pleaded guilty to another charge and was given probation. Snodgrass could argue there was a conflict and that he got a harsher sentence because of it.
Snodgrass declined to be interviewed for this story.
His current attorney, Bill Sheppard, said he did not want to discuss the case.
“He wants to get better,” Sheppard said of his client.
At his sentencing last year, Snodgrass was being supported by veterans advocates. A letter sent to State Attorney Angela Corey by the general counsel of Florida’s Department of Veterans Affairs noted that a law establishing veterans courts had not passed that year. It would have considered treatment for vets charged in cases, and Corey was asked to consider that information.
Veterans courts have since been established, including one in Duval County, and Snodgrass asked that he be allowed to work with it to help other vets as community service.
Snodgrass was deployed to Iraq in February 2003 and was there until January 2004.
In May 2003, while under fire in Baghdad, he jumped from a wall while wearing full battle gear, according to the motion to modify his sentence. The jump caused the back injury. The same year, a piece of equipment he was using broke and he fell about 8 feet, striking his head.
In 2005 he was given a medical discharge. He and his former wife moved to Jacksonville in 2007.
Though he left prison in July, Snodgrass is not entirely free.
His release stipulates five years of community control. He will wear an ankle bracelet for three years. For two he can only go to a job or the doctor, Mantei said. For the third year, he will be allowed greater freedom. For the remainder of the sentence he will be on probation. He can have no contact with the two victims. They have agreed to the conditions, Mantei said.
“He went from three years behind bars to five years of what amounts to house arrest,” Mantei said.