Damien Rodriguez, an Iraq War veteran who attacked an Iraqi waiter at an Oregon restaurant, will not get jail time because he suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), The Oregonian is reporting.
Rodriguez was facing as much as a mandatory five years and ten months in prison for the April 2017 hate crime. However, his attorney presented evidence that he has been suffering from PTSD since watching his Marine buddies die during the Iraq War. That was enough to convince a court that Rodriguez should be spared jail time; instead, he was sentenced to five years probation and must pay $21,000 in fines.
The crime took place back in April 2017. As NBC News reported at the time, Rodriguez entered Portland’s DarSalam restaurant, which serves Iraqi food and has Iraqi employees. Owner Ghaith Sahib said that Rodriguez didn’t order any food, and instead just “hung out” for an hour or so.
Police would later say that Rodriguez, who appeared drunk, demanded that employees shake his hand. Police reports say that he talked about watching his friends die in Iraq and said, “F**k Iraq.” A friend would later describe Rodriguez as having a “flashback” to his time in Iraq while in the restaurant.
He then grabbed a chair and struck a waiter with it. Another restaurant employee was also caught up in the melee. Both suffered minor injuries.
Rodriguez was charged with second-degree counts of assault, disorderly conduct, and intimidation. Under Oregon law, if intimidation occurs during the course of a crime, and it’s based on the victim’s race or nationality, it’s considered a hate crime.
During his trial, Rodriguez’ attorney presented testimony from doctors, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan interpreters who had worked with him during his combat operations, as proof that his client was suffering from PTSD, and that his crimes that day were not borne of “racist intent.”
Rodriguez also wrote a letter of apology to his victims.
“Words will not undo what happened, how I reacted violently and irrationally, seemingly out of nowhere and frightened you and your patrons.”
Meanwhile, Sean Davis, a friend of the Sahibs and himself a veteran, thinks that his friends’ assailant got off light.
“It shouldn’t be a get-out-of-jail free card just because you’re a veteran.”
According to the National Center for PTSD at the Department of Veterans Affairs, as many as 20 percent of veterans who served in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom (the Iraq and Afghanistan wars) will suffer from PTSD in a given year.