Released From Protective Custody Day Before Shooting

Iraq war veteran Michael Veillette of Waterbury, Connecticut.

                                               Story By John Murray

   On three consecutive days a former United States Marine, Michael Veillette, went up to Holy Land USA to commit suicide, and each time his plan was foiled. The first attempt was thwarted by the compassion and love of a Marine Corps buddy, the second time he was arrested for carrying a pistol with an expired permit, and the third time he was shot in the hip by a Waterbury police officer and arrested again on a slew of charges. Inbetween the arrests Veillette was committed and evaluated at St. Mary’s Hospital, and released.

   Tormented by PTSD from two tours of duty in Iraq, and depression, Veillette wanted out. He had intended to climb atop the hill at Holy Land USA and shoot himself at the base of the massive cross that overlooks Waterbury. This morning Veillette is in stable condition and will be arraigned at St. Mary’s Hospital when the legal system delivers a judge, prosecutor, court reporter and public defender to conduct legal proceedings in his hospital room.

   Veillette will be asked to plead guilty or not guilty to 2 counts of criminal attempt at assault first degree, 2 counts of criminal attempt at assault on a police officer, threatening first degree, carrying a dangerous weapon, theft of a firearm and criminal trespass third degree.

   It didn’t have to come to this. Veillette was in police and hospital custody on Tuesday night charged only with an expired pistol permit. Releasing a depressed suicidal veteran after three hours raises serious questions.

   “The system failed Michael Veillette,” said Brian Warren, a former U.S. Marine who served with Veillette in Iraq, and the man who talked his friend out of committing suicide Monday night. “Michael served his country with honor and needed help. He had tried to kill himself two days in a row. Why did the hospital release him with a serious mental health issue? He could have killed a cop. This was an epic mistake.”

   When St. Mary’s Hospital was reached for comment, Stephanie Valickis, the
Corporate Communications Specialist for Trinity Health Of New England e-mailed a statement. It said….

    “Saint Mary’s top priority is the safety and privacy of all our patients.  Since we cannot comment on individual patients, our general behavioral health policies are to perform an initial medical screening by an emergency medical physician.

    Patients who may be at risk for suicide or possibly at risk for self-harm, are then carefully and thoroughly evaluated by a team of behavioral health professionals.  If it is determined that the patient does pose a risk to himself or herself, they are admitted voluntarily or involuntarily, for further care and evaluation.”

  In this case Veillette was out in three hours, and a day later he was shot while waving a loaded shotgun in the air at Holy Land in an armed standoff with six Waterbury police officers. “Thankfully Mike is still alive,” Brian Warren said, “but it never should have come to this. He is a great guy and needs help.”

First Attempt

   On Monday night Brian Warren was cruising through Waterbury and called his former Marine buddy Mike Veillette to catch up. When he reached Veillette on his cell phone, Warren knew his friend was in trouble.

   “He told me he was going to blow his head off,” Warren said, “but he told me if I came by, he had time to share a smoke with me.”

   Warren and Veillette are former U.S. Marines from 36 Kilo Company who served two tours of duty together in Iraq in 2007 and 2008. Alarmed that Veillette was openly talking about suicide, Warren met his friend at a gas station and climbed inside his car.

   “Mike had a 45-caliber pistol and wouldn’t let me get too close to him,” Warren said. “We drove around for awhile and then drove up to Holy Land around 11:30 pm where Mike said he was going to kill himself.”

    Warren himself had been suicidal years before and credits the Wounded Warriors Project and a loving family for helping him regain his balance. “I knew the darkness of the scenario and didn’t want him to be alone,” Warren said. “Mike has PTSD and needs help.”

Former U.S. Marine Brian Warren

   The American Psychiatric Association defines Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war, rape or other violent personal assault.

   Brian Warren told The Waterbury Observer that Veillette was out of work on 100% disability from PTSD, and had been seeking help at a veteran’s hospital, but had lapsed in seeking treatment the past three months. Having once been suicidal himself, Warren had keen insights to share with Veillette as they drove up to Holy Land and walked around the property.

   The two Iraq veterans walked beneath an arch leading up to the Holy Land cross and Warren, who had been in counseling for years, tried all the tricks that had been used on him.

   “I talked about his family,” Warren said, “but he had a gun in his hand, the safety was off, and his finger was in the trigger wheel.”

    Overhead the stars were bright as the two men walked back and forth beneath a crumbled miniature replica of Jerusalem. Warren had never been to Holy Land before and believed he was walking around in a cemetery.

   “It was a very bad situation for 90 minutes,” Warren said. “Mike was ready to do it.”

   Eventually Warren talked Veillette into driving back home. “I got him off the hill but he wouldn’t talk or engage,” Warren said. “He was upset that I had stopped him.”

   Warren wasn’t going to leave his friend alone and spent the night at Veillette’s house in Waterbury. When Veillette woke up in the early afternoon he threw his roommates out of his house, including Warren. “I asked for his pistol and he refused to give it to me,” Warren said, “so I called the Veteran’s Crisis Hotline and they immediately contacted the Waterbury police.”

   The police responded to 145 Chipman Street in the Town Plot neighborhood of Waterbury and by the time they arrived, Veillette had left. The police were told that Veillette was armed and was driving a blue Cadillac towards Holy Land to commit suicide.

    Waterbury Deputy Police Chief Fred Spagnolo said police officers found Veillette parked on Pleasant Street, near Holy Land, and Veillette exited the car without incident.

   “We arrested Mr. Veillette on a weapons charge when we found a pistol under his seat,” Spagnolo said. “His permit had expired.”

Michael Veillette’s mug shot from his first arrest on Tuesday night.

   Waterbury PD also used a risk warrant to confiscate four more of Veillette’s weapons inside his Chipman Street home for safekeeping.

    The Waterbury police charged Veillette and brought him to St. Mary’s Hospital on an emergency committal for a psychological examination. Under Connecticut State Statute 17a-503, a police officer, “who has reasonable cause to believe that a person has psychiatric disabilities and is dangerous to himself or herself and in need of immediate care and treatment may take such person into custody and take or cause such person to be taken to a general hospital for emergency examination under this section.”

    State law mandates that the police officer execute a written request for emergency examination detailing the circumstances under which the person was taken into custody, and the request must be left with the facility. The person shall be examined within twenty-four hours, and shall not be held for more than seventy-two hours.

   Once St. Mary’s Hospital admitted Mike Veillette on Tuesday evening they were under Connecticut General Statute 17a-502 that states, “any person who a physician concludes has psychiatric disabilities and is dangerous to himself or others and is in need of immediate care and treatment in a hospital for psychiatric disabilities may be confined in a hospital under an emergency certificate for not more than 15 days.”

   Within three hours Mike Veillette had been evaluated and released from St. Mary’s Hospital and sent back to Waterbury police headquarters. Veillette posted a $10,000 bail on the gun charge and was free by 8:30 pm Tuesday.

  “We were told that Mike would be held for 72 hours,” Warren said, “But he knew all the right answers to give and lied his way out.”

   Warren believes there needs to be aditional evaluation for veterans because they are trained  to handle interogations. Warren emphatically states that Veillette was dealing with a mental health issue and needed to be committed to the hospital to get proper treatment.

   “We’re losing 22 veterans to suicide every day,” Warren said. “This man served his country honorably and was suicidal. The Waterbury police knew he was suicidal. The hospital knew he was suicidal. Our system failed Mike Veillette.”

Michael Veillete had struggled with mental health issues for years.

   Less than 24 hours after being released from custody Veillette took a roommate’s shotgun and headed back towards Holy Land a third time with the intent to commit suicide. Another call was placed to the Waterbury PD and according to a source, two police cars made it to the entrance to Holy Land before Veillette. When Veillette pulled up he was met by four officers standing behind their car doors with guns drawn.

   Veillette stepped out of his car with the shotgun and words were exchanged. Then a third police car came up from behind him. Veillette turned to look at that officer, then picked up the rifle that had been resting next to his leg and walked up the hill. An officer without a drawn gun attempted to get Veillette to stop, but a source said Veillette kept walking. At this point the officer that had attempted to follow Veillette came back to the other officers and formed a formation to all go up the hill together in pursuit.

   Was Veillette intending to commit suicide by cop? Brian Warren believes that was a possibility. Further up the hill Veillette began to wave the shotgun around and was shot in the hip by a Waterbury police officer.

   Deputy Police Chief Fred Spagnolo said that shooting a gun is a last resort for a police officer. “Officers are taught to stop the threat,” Spagnolo said, “not to kill.”

Fred Spagnolo, Deputy Chief of the Waterbury Police Department.

   And in this case the hip wound stopped Veillette, and police officers immediately began first aid. Improbably Michael Veillette survived his three-day mission to kill himself, and is healing today inside St. Mary’s Hospital. The Connecticut State Police were called in by the Waterbury PD to investigate an officer-involved shooting (which is Waterbury policy).

   Brian Warren has been appalled at the media coverage of the shooting which he said lacked perspective and compassion. Initial reports Wednesday night and Thursday did not mention that Veillette was a former U.S. Marine, an Iraq veteran, and was suffering from PTSD. “Mike Veillette was being thrown under the bus,” Warren said. “He is a great guy who needs help. This has been a collosal mess-up and the system has failed him.”