Soldier accused of psychiatric ward assault is found not guilty
KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Army Staff Sgt. Fred A. Tapia Jr. was found not guilty Friday of assault and disorderly conduct stemming from an April 2005 incident at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center’s psychiatric ward.
A six-member panel of officers and enlisted soldiers announced its findings Friday afternoon following about an hour of deliberation.
Tapia’s defense counsel did not dispute his actions, but argued that Tapia was “acutely sick, mentally ill” at the time.
“Sgt. Tapia simply did not know — 100 percent — what he was doing that day,” said Capt. Chris Burgess, Tapia’s lead attorney.
On April 9, 2005, Tapia, a soldier assigned to Landstuhl, was admitted to the medical center’s psychiatric ward after arriving via ambulance at the hospital’s emergency room with a high heart rate. He became agitated after questioning from a psychiatrist in the emergency room, and agreed to walk to the psychiatric ward with the doctor for additional treatment.
Tapia became more upset once inside the psychiatric ward’s intake room. As the doctor, Air Force Maj. Dean Cutillar, was preparing to give Tapia an injection to calm him, Tapia lunged at him. Cutillar got out of the room and testified Thursday that he was “definitely surprised” but not hurt.
At that point, Tapia barricaded himself inside the room, removed his shirt and wrapped it around one of his hands. He then went into the room’s adjoining bathroom and emerged with a pipe that he had removed from the bathroom sink.
He then began pacing inside the intake room, taunting those outside to “come on in,” according to court testimony.
Tapia did not attempt to leave the room and eventually complied with Air Force security forces personnel, who handcuffed him. No one was hurt in the incident, and Tapia remained in the hospital’s psychiatric ward for 10 days.
Prosecutors claimed that Tapia was not mentally ill at the time but rather was suffering from a personality disorder.
Capt. Jocelyn Doehling, one of the prosecutors, argued that Tapia was aware of the choices he made during the incident at the hospital.
“That day, the choices he made were criminal,” she said.
Since the incident, Tapia has treated dozens of patients at Landstuhl, where he works. Tapia has started IVs and helped with wounded troops coming in from Iraq and Afghanistan, testified Sgt. 1st Class Cheryl Cole, one of Tapia’s superiors at Landstuhl.
“I have never had a complaint from a patient,” she said. “There was no problem.”