Judge rejects the plea of a soldier with adjustment disorder and Anxiety disorder

Adjusting to civilian life was difficult for U.S. Army veteran Eric S. Braman. The Lafayette native lost his lower right leg in Afghanistan on Aug. 28, 2010, after a rocket-propelled grenade struck the military vehicle he was riding in.

During his recovery, Braman was diagnosed with multiple mental disorders — among them, adjustment disorder, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to his attorney, Dan Moore. He may also be diagnosed with adjustment disorder with depressed mood

At what was supposed to be a sentencing hearing Wednesday, Moore recounted these details and others. He may get a second chance to give his client’s background story after a Tippecanoe County judge rejected a plea agreement that would have reduced a Class D felony for firing a handgun in public to a Class A misdemeanor.

Braman told a Tippecanoe County judge on Wednesday that it was his anxiety and uneasiness in large crowds that prompted him to bring a handgun “for protection” while out drinking with his brother and friends on Aug. 26 and Aug. 27, 2011, at two to four Lafayette-area bars.

He pulled out the handgun that morning during an argument outside End Zone Sports Bar & Grill, 2408 Veterans Memorial Parkway South — firing one round in the air and a second round into the ground. Gun wadding and debris struck a passerby, 31-year-old Andrew Studer of Lafayette in the chest, knocking him to the ground.

“He responded to his victims like they were insurgents,” Moore told Judge Les Meade of Tippecanoe Superior Court 5 on Wednesday afternoon, during what was supposed to be Braman’s sentencing hearing.

Braman, 25, pleaded guilty in March to criminal recklessness while armed with a deadly weapon. Under a plea agreement with the Tippecanoe County prosecutor’s office, the Class D felony would have been entered as a Class A misdemeanor, and an additional misdemeanor count of carrying a handgun with a license would have been dropped.

“What started as an over-reaction … evolved into a flashback,” Moore said. “When he was running away, he was giving out coordinates while on the phone with his girlfriend.”

The judge, however, refused to accept the plea agreement on grounds that it would neither help Braman nor protect the community. A Class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year incarceration. Meade ordered Moore and prosecutors to work out another solution.

“Somebody’s out, getting drunk, going from bar to bar to bar, then pulls out a handgun. ... Why should I accept a misdemeanor in this case?” he said. 
Deputy Prosecutor Greg Loyd told Meade that he believed the plea agreement was appropriate given his military service and work history. Meade disagreed.

“Unfortunately for Mr. Braman, I’m the only judge in Tippecanoe County who is not too impressed with the sympathy of losing a limb,” the judge said. “Things happen; you've got to deal with it.”

Meade was critically injured and lost his hand in October 1999 after a car he was in collided with a semitrailer on North River Road in West Lafayette.He has a prosthetic hand; Braman has a prosthetic leg.

“I'm not telling you you shouldn’t have some feeling of loss from losing a limb, but things happen,” Meade said. 
“I lost more than a limb,” Braman replied.The attack that injured Braman also killed two of his friends, according to Moore. He spent 11 months at a Washington, D.C., hospital for physical therapy.

Today, he struggles with being in large crowds. 
“That’s why I don’t really leave the house. I don’t like being in public,” Braman told Meade.The shooting outside End Zone and Braman’s arrest occurred the night before a homecoming ceremony and parade in downtown Lafayette to honor his military service.

The parade would have coincided with the one-year anniversary of the grenade attack — making “his time in the warzone fresh in his mind,” Moore said. Organizers canceled the parade, but local veterans still held a fish fry to raise money for Braman’s family.