Howley, 40, of West Dover, received a suspended sentence of six to 12 months in jail on two counts of simple assault and was ordered to two years of probation. Howley is also required to continue the mental-health treatment he has been receiving for post traumatic stress disorder, an affliction that, according to clinical psychologist David Mellinger, caused Howley to assault the victims.
On April 8, 2012, Howley, stationed out of the Brattleboro barracks, was on duty when he arrived at Lake Raponda and confronted two young men who had taken his canoe onto the lake without permission. Howley proceeded to assault the two by slamming 21-year-old Anton Pike’s face against the trunk of his cruiser three times, and pushing 21-year-old Mark Ellison’s head into a rock. Ellison eventually sought medical attention for a head laceration. Howley resigned from the force on May 14, 2012, two days before the charges were filed by the Vermont Attorney General’s office.
According to published reports, Howley does not recall the incident taking place and during testimony, Mellinger explained amnesia is a common symptom in those suffering from PTSD. Mellinger diagnosed Howley with PTSD in 2006, and says it was brought on by events in Howley’s military career and time as a police officer. Howley has also begun to receive treatment for PTSD from a psychiatrist at the Veterans Administration Hospital in White River Junction.
Howley also never disclosed his illness to state police and Mellinger said the loss of Howley’s house during Tropical Storm Irene, as well as his assignments during the storm, which included finding drowning victim Ivana Taseva, 20, of Macedonia, aggravated his illness.
Mellinger’s testimony about Howley’s illness satisfied justification by which Howley could choose to plead no contest as opposed to guilty. “The original hesitation that Judge David Suntag had was whether he should be allowed to plead no contest instead of guilty,” said Levine. “That was resolved after testimony was supplied that as a result of a mental condition he had PTSD and he was unable to recall sufficient detail involving the facts surrounding the assaults.”
Once Judge Suntag was satisfied, it became a matter of the details of a plea deal.
According to Vermont Assistant Attorney General Michael Levine, he and Howley’s attorney Brian Marthage had originally struck a plea deal in which Howley would receive a suspended sentence of up to six months along with one year of probation. Judge Suntag felt that the deal was too lenient citing that the crime was committed by an on-duty police officer, and therefore required a stiffer penalty to avoid damaging the credibility of all Vermont law enforcement officers.
Levine and Marthage adjusted the sentence to two years probation and a six-to-12-month suspended jail sentence.
“The state is pleased,” said Levine, “because this satisfies the primary goal for a criminal conviction to both charges, without necessity of trial or appeal. There’s finality to it and both victims supported it in this case, which is something that we always look for as well.”
Levine had no comment on the possibility of civil litigation involving the victims, the state, or Howley.