Program offers rigorous, diversionary treatment tailored to military
By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times
A 30-year-old Chester County Marine was admittedly operating on a short fuse on Nov. 13, 2010 – the day he ended up with road-rage charges. More than two years later, he’s on the road to a brighter future, thanks to the county’s Veterans Court program.
Louis A. Freda II, who graduated from the program on Monday, could not have imagined that he would end up in front of a judge who shared his commitment to the Marine Corps, devotion to family and children – even his zeal for raising chickens.
Of course, Veterans Court is not a typical judicial venue. Established in March 2010, the program, modeled after Drug Court, diverts primarily non-violent offenders who have served in the armed forces from the regular criminal justice system. It is overseen by Chester County Senior Court Judge Thomas G. Gavin, a former Marine Corps captain who served in Vietnam.
Although research suggests that even though veterans are no more likely than the general population to become involved in the criminal justice system, individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder have a higher incidence of arrests for crimes such as driving under the influence and weapons charges.
Using a partnership with the Coatesville Veterans Administration Medical Center and a team that includes veterans, Veterans Court requires mandatory treatment, random drug-testing, and intensive supervision, a rigorous regimen that rewards participants who successfully complete it with expungement of the charges.
“One of the benefits of the program is that you have people like Judge Gavin and Donna Brown, the probation officer, who understand what these people have experienced … and can look at the underlying circumstances,” said Chester County Chief Deputy District Attorney Patrick Carmody, the prosecutor assigned to Veterans Court.
Carmody said that Freda gained admittance to Veterans Court only after both the driver he threatened and the police officer who arrested him signed off on his participation.
Freda, who shares his Kemblesville home with his wife, Michelle, their son and daughter, ages 1 and 2 – as well as a flock of fowl – said he was grateful for the opportunity to get his life back on track. He said that he was injured outside Iraq in 2006, an experience for which the emotional scars have proven more difficult to overcome than the physical ones.
Gavin, who said next month he will celebrate his 47th anniversary of getting out of boot camp, said he learned enduring, cherished values from the experience – values that he hopes will help Freda to continue his recovery.
Chester County President Judge James P. MacElree II said he was glad Freda had the opportunity to participate in Veterans Court. “I think it’s incumbent upon us to help repay the debt we owe to our servicemen,” he said.
Jennifer Lopez, deputy chief of adult probation, said 16 veterans have been accepted into the program since its inception. To date, five have graduated. She said the time frame for completing the program, which requires intensive counseling and treatment programs, varies, averaging about a year and a half.
Monday’s program, which included a Marine Corps Honor Guard, required Freda to perform cake-cutting duties. He said he planned to take the leftovers to his wife’s workplace. He also plans to stay in touch with members of the Veterans Justice Outreach Program at the Coatesville VA. For more information on VA resources, visit www.coatesville.va.gov.