Records belie Pa. vet's claims
By BETH BRELJE | Pocono Record, Stroudsburg, Pa. | Published: January 21, 2014
Newly obtained records tell a story profoundly different than the one supporters of Pike County Army veteran Timothy Flaherty have told about how he was injured in Afghanistan.
Now Pike County District Attorney Ray Tonkin is asking Judge Joseph Kameen to require Flaherty to return to prison and complete the sentence Kameen imposed on him nearly a year ago for drunken driving.
"The commonwealth believes that (Flaherty), in order to escape the term of imprisonment imposed by this honorable court, has perpetrated a fraud on the court," Tonkin wrote in a recent court filing.
The sentence has become a matter of controversy.
Pike County Commissioner Rich Caridi has been a vocal advocate for Flaherty and says the justice system should offer leniency because Flaherty suffers from PTSD due to a horrifying event he experienced while serving his country.
Caridi and Brian Flaherty, Timothy Flaherty's grandfather, are friends and members of the same Blooming Grove Marine veterans' organization.
Caridi has used his political clout to drum up support for Flaherty.
Less than a month before Kameen is to again rule in Flaherty's case, Kameen attended a meeting with Caridi and other veteran advocates to discuss the possibility of starting a special court for veterans that would divert some vets suffering from PTSD away from prison and into treatment.
Caridi has taken Flaherty's story to the media, introducing Mary and Brian Flaherty, the grandparents who raised him, to reporters.
The dramatic scenario of Flaherty's injuries have been repeated in numerous local news reports, as told by Caridi, Flaherty and his grandparents.
The story was also part of a presentence report written by the Pike County Probation Office, based on statements made by Flaherty, and cited by Kameen in a decision as a reason for granting Flaherty a furlough from prison.
What they say happened
Timothy Flaherty, a platoon leader, along with four other soldiers, were riding in a truck that was blown up by explosives in the mountains of Afghanistan.
The four other soldiers died, and Flaherty stopped breathing and was pronounced dead over the radio. However, when a helicopter arrived, a medic discovered he was still alive.
Flaherty was resuscitated and given a tracheotomy, but it punctured his lung.
Flaherty was sent to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. When his family visited him there, he was still covered in dried blood and dirt from the battlefield.
There has been talk of Flaherty having or deserving a Purple Heart medal for his injuries.
What records say happened
In May 2006, Flaherty, then a staff sergeant, was on duty, standing guard outside a residence in which a U.S. Army colonel and a local Afghan official were meeting.
He suddenly became ill and passed out.
Flaherty's tongue was blocking his breathing, so a medic and a physician's assistant performed a tracheotomy on him to restore his breathing.
Once he was stabilized, he was sent back to the United States.
That is according to a signed affidavit from Mathew Novak, a 20-year veteran who held the rank of sergeant first class at the time, and was present when it happened.
"The incident was non-hostile in nature, Mr. Flaherty was not in a Humvee, nor was he involved in any incident involving an I.E.D. at the time, nor were any fellow service members killed or hurt during the incident," Novak wrote.
Flaherty took a few months to recover and returned to Afghanistan.
Tonkin has obtained a similar sworn statement describing the incident from Wayne Walker, command sergeant major, the highest ranking enlisted soldier in the battalion.
The Pike County District Attorney's Office also got records from the Defense Casualty Information Database, which is used to maintain a record of ill, wounded, dead and missing service members.
A document from the database says the incident was classified as non-hostile and there were no other injuries or illnesses associated with any other tours in Afghanistan.
In that case, Flaherty would not be eligible for a Purple Heart, which is awarded for enemy-related injuries.
Flaherty, 30, has been stopped for drunken driving at least five times in the United States, at least twice in Pike County.
He drove with a suspended license, injured a person in one crash and assaulted two state troopers, kneeing each of them in the groin during an arrest.
He was granted a previous furlough by Kameen to attend a special military treatment program for addiction in Virginia. But he left the program and was arrested for DUI again.
Kameen gave him another furlough from prison to attend an addiction treatment center instead of prison, this time at Common Ground, a veterans transitional residence in Montrose, N.Y.
Kameen extended the furlough in May and again in September for three more months. Those three months have passed. The furlough is expired.
But Flaherty has not reported back to prison, Tonkin wrote in a court filing last week.
As part of the furlough agreements, Common Ground was to file bi-weekly reports on Flaherty's status.
The last report was sent July 17, and indicated that Flaherty had finished the PTSD program and, as of May, was in a four-month program for homeless and unemployed veterans.
Kameen had sentenced Flaherty to one year and 90 days to five years in Pike County Correctional Facility, but then granted the furlough.
Pennsylvania law requires a maximum sentence be less than five years for someone to be eligible for furlough, so Flaherty should not have been eligible for furlough.
Tonkin's office went to the Pennsylvania Superior Court to appeal the furlough decision.
In the meantime, he has asked Kameen to reconsider his decision in light of information showing Flaherty misrepresented his military experience.
Flaherty's DD-214 military service records say he was honorably discharged from the Army with advice to seek rehabilitation.
The report shows Flaherty was discharged for a list of eight reasons: alcohol or other drug abuse rehabilitation failure; disobeying a direct order; drunk on duty four times; making false official statements; leaving a place of duty; AWOL; failure to report; and testing positive for cocaine.
The military records also contain a behavioral health report from June 2009 by a licensed psychologist and neuropsychologist.
The report points to addiction rather than brain injury.
"Current results indicate no significant persisting impairment from traumatic brain injury," the report said.
Flaherty was also tested for PTSD and delayed onset PTSD in 2009.
"Although Flaherty reports distress from his combat experiences, all criteria for PTSD were not met," the report said.
It added that Flaherty does meet the criteria for anxiety disorder, but the severity of the anxiety was not considered appropriate for separation from the military on medical grounds.
The primary diagnosis from the neuropsychologist in 2009 was alcohol and cocaine abuse.
During his military career, Flaherty obtained a rank of staff Sgt. Grade E-5, but he had his rank reduced three times, eventually down to private grade E-1, his military records show.
His next court hearing will be Jan. 27 in the Pike County Court of Common Pleas.