Violence affected Marine's life long before his killing

Iraq veteran suffered from PTSD and depression

March 23, 2011|By Tricia Bishop, The Baltimore Sun

March 23, 2011

It was after 1 a.m. on June 5, 2010. Tyrone Brown had already had plenty to drink. But he wasn't ready to go home.

The 32-year-old Baltimore native tried to drag his sister and a friend into Club Hippo, but they didn't want to go into a gay bar, according to a police account. He got touchy with some women standing outside, moving to hug one, and grabbing the butt of another. When she smacked him, he shoved her back.

The woman's companion stepped in. As the confrontation escalated, the companion — off-duty Baltimore Police Officer Gahiji Tshamba — pulled his service weapon and unloaded it into Brown.

Within the hour, Brown was pronounced dead — a violent end to a man who had become haunted by violence.

As a Marine corporal, Brown had spent 18 months leading a platoon in combat in Iraq. Under fire in the insurgent stronghold of Ramadi, he had killed an armed woman and a child.

When his tour was up, he brought some of the brutality of war back with him to Baltimore: In the memories that played over and over in his head, and in the trained aggression he couldn't shake.

The details of Brown's post-combat psyche are recorded in more than 100 pages of medical and psychiatric records made public last month as part of the criminal court file of Tshamba, charged with murder in Brown's death.

Written in the five-year span between Brown's return from Iraq and his killing in Baltimore, they reveal the private pain of a veteran whose death was disturbingly public.

A medical history from 2008, when Brown was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, offers a glimpse: "Nightmares (4-5 nights/week, sleep is very disturbed; sleeps 2-4 hrs/night, can't sleep), intrusive recollections of losing friends. Wakes in cold sweats. Screams in sleep. Having flashbacks a few times a week."

Doctors described Brown as angry and anxious, though they said he often hid his fears behind a joking façade. He told psychiatrists that he had thrown a knife at his wife, beaten a relative and consumed massive amounts of vodka and marijuana. Yet he remained hopeful that he could find his way out of the despair, his records show, even as the months added up to years.

Tshamba, who also has a history of volatility, is scheduled for trial in late May. His defense lawyer will use Brown's medical records to argue that the former Marine was impulsive and prone to violence, supporting Tshamba's assertion that he fired in self-defense.

A. Dwight Pettit, an attorney who represents Brown's family in a civil lawsuit filed against Tshamba, the police and the city government, called the medical records "totally irrelevant to the acts that transpired the night of the shootings." He said he plans to "fight extremely vigorously to make sure that the records are not introduced in the civil proceeding."

The military had provided a measure of order for Brown, who was born to teenage parents who didn't stay together. His father was an addict who was frequently imprisoned and never around. His mother raised him with his stepfather, two brothers and two sisters.

Brown got B's and C's in school, played lacrosse and football, and graduated on time. He had a son with one woman when he was 18 — she sued him for paternity — and married a different woman when he was 24, producing a daughter.

By then, he'd been a member of the 4th Combat Engineer Battalion Marine Reserve unit, based in Northeast Baltimore, for five years.

His loyalty was to his brothers there. Brown didn't have to go to Iraq; he had already fulfilled his active service requirement by early 2004, when his unit was called to deploy. His son was 8, his daughter 2. He left for Iraq.

In Ramadi, the capital of the volatile al-Anbar province, local fighters were putting up a strong resistance to the U.S. occupation, killing more than 30 Marines and wounding 180 more in one five-month stretch in 2004.

As combat engineers, Brown's platoon was responsible for laying and clearing landmines. They soon found themselves in the line of fire. Brown was on constant alert, suspicious of everything, including the terrain.

A Humvee in which he was traveling in late 2004 was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. He was thrown from the vehicle, slammed his head and blacked out.

Taken to a nearby outpost, he was given a once-over and sent on his way.

People were trying to kill Brown, and it was his job to kill them first. From a doctor's note: "Traumatic incidents including killing lady/child (she was armed, kid was by accident), seeing friends killed."

Honorably discharged in 2005, Brown told exit interviewers that he was fine. He "didn't want to discuss things," one doctor wrote.

Brown came home to Baltimore. But he was unable to leave Iraq behind.

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