More details surface after Menifee Veteran’s weapons arrest
MENIFEE — In the wake of a Menifee man’s arrest after officials discovered he was in possession of an AT-4 rocket launcher and other weapons, RCNS has uncovered additional details that shed light on the circumstances that led to the Veteran’s arrest.
According to friends and family of the arrested man, Lucas Michael Rutledge, 37, of Menifee, is a decorated war Veteran who served 17 years as a Staff Sergeant in the Army as an Air Assault Infantryman with the 101st Airborne’s “Screaming Eagles.”
LEADING THE RCNS HEADLINES:
Lucas Rutledge, (pictured back row, fourth from right) poses with his fellow soldiers of the 101st Airborne at FOB WAZA KHWA in Afhanistan. Rutledge family photo
During his lengthy career with the Army, Lucas’ family said he served three consecutive tours in Iraq, one year in Korea, and one year in Afghanistan, where he was assigned to a forward operating base (FOB) called Waza Khwa.
He also served as a combatives instructor who trained other soldiers in his unit, and later spent several years in recruiting before retiring in March, 2017 with an honorable discharge and a diagnosis of depression and PTSD.
In the days since Rutledge’s arrest last Tuesday, July 9, RCNS has had the opportunity to interview several of Lucas’ friends and family members, including his wife of 10 years, Nicole, as well his his concerned father Michael and mother Sheila, who say their love and support of Lucas has never waivered.
“Lucas enlisting in the Army was always a given”
Lucas’ family told RCNS that after his numerous years spent overseas and in active combat, the man they once knew – who joined the Army at just 18-years-old – never returned home to them, replaced by a stranger who was all but unknown to them.
“This stranger was a very angry disturbed man, who withdrew from his wife and family and became impossible to deal with,” Lucas’ father, Michael told RCNS. “He was and still is in self-destruct mode.”
Lucas and his wife Nicole, seen during happier times. Rutledge family photo
“He feels intense guilt that will never go away, for coming back when he lost too many friends overseas,” Michael explained. “He can’t function normally and destroys relationships with all who love and care for him.”
“We raised a loving patriotic son who even as a little boy ran around the woods playing soldier in his camouflage outfit, using sticks as guns,” Michael continued. “Lucas enlisting in the Army was always a given.”
“Since being medically retired and returning home, Lucas has horrible nightmares and tries to stay awake – sometimes for days at a time – simply to avoid the awful night terrors that haunt him,” Lucas’ concerned father explained.
“The only way he sleeps is when he is too tired to stay awake and just passes out,” Michael continued. “His days and nights are often filled with terror and feelings that he is in imminent danger. When everyone around him sleeps, Lucas is often awake, keeping watch on the perimeter of our home waiting for the next attack from insurgents.”
“Any loud noise such as fireworks shot off on the 4th of July is a great source of stress for Lucas,” said Michael. “It’s a nightmare come to life for our son, and any loud or unexpected noises set off all his terrible memories of war.”
In spite of ongoing counseling and many attempts to find a cure for his depression and PTSD, Lucas’ family says nothing has helped and “the therapy only intensified his pain.”
Lucas eventually turned to drugs in an attempt to ease his pain and mental suffering, but his life has continued to spiral out of control. After so many years serving his country, he seemed to no longer be capable of normal interactions with others, even those who loved and cared for him the most, according to his family.
Where he once was a happy and content man, “he now spends hour after hour thinking about suicide because his mental pain is too intense to live with,” Michael explained. “Survivor’s guilt and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder have destroyed the son, husband, father, and caring man he once was.”
The day Lucas’ legal troubles began
Lucas’ legal troubles began last Saturday, July 6, when he returned home without his truck after being missing for a week – something he has been known to do since his retirement from active duty and return home.
According to Michael, when Lucas returned after his week away from home he wasn’t himself and had returned in a “fugue state” – a dissociative disorder that doctors say is characterized by amnesia and forgetting one’s personal identity, including their memories, personality, and other identifying characteristics of their individuality. Specialists say fugue states can last days, months, or even longer.
“We asked about his truck as he walked onto the property,” Michael explained. In his confusion and disorientation, “he mumbled that he left it on a cliff in Afghanistan.”
Lucas clearly wasn’t himself and was acting in a bizarre and irrational manner and his family knew something was very wrong, his family explained.
“He went into the bathroom, locked the door, and told his wife he was going to kill himself,” said Michael. Moments later, Nicole heard a gunshot come from inside the bathroom and feared the worst.
As it turned out, Lucas had fired his handgun “as a desperate cry for help,” putting a hole in the home’s bathtub.
Lucas eventually calmed down and after his week away from home he fell into a deep, but fitful, sleep.
“It had become so difficult dealing with him,” Lucas’ father explained, saying, “We decided it was time to get him real help.”
While Lucas slept, his family took his weapons; a handgun, AR-15-style rifle, and a shotgun – all weapons which were legally purchased, properly registered, and used for home defense – and locked them in his parent’s safe.
“We knew we needed to call the sheriff’s department to get Lucas the help he needed, but making sure he was unarmed was our top priority,” explained Michael.
“Once his firearms were secured, we called the Riverside County Sheriff Department and asked for help in getting Lucas into treatment,” Michael continued. “We requested a Community Response Evaluation and Support Team (C.R.E.S.T.) to be dispatched to assess him and send him for a 72-hour mental health evaluation.”
In response to their 911 call, three officers responded to the family’s home. But because Lucas was sleeping, officials elected to not confront him at the time, reportedly saying, “We don’t want to kill anyone today, so let’s not disturb the bear,” according to Michael.
After the family had described to deputies as much about Lucas’ current situation as they could and the deputies left the residence, they were more worried than ever.
“We were very concerned about how Lucas would respond to his missing guns,” Micahel told RCNS. Sure enough, when Lucas woke up he was “outraged that we had taken his weapons and locked them in our safe.”
“We called 911 again, but in his rage, Lucas left the home, smashing through a gate that he had only recently built on the property’s driveway.”
By the time deputies arrived back at the home, Lucas was long gone and his family had no idea where he had gone or when, or even if, he would return.
“This was an enormous misuse of manpower for one broken man”
Lucas eventually did return home several days later, sometime Tuesday, July 9. When his family realized he had returned home, they once again called the sheriff’s department and asked for the help their loved one so desperately needed.
According to Lucas’ family, at 6:15 p.m., “about 40 deputies and sheriff’s SWAT” members descended on their rural property. They brought with them four armored tactical rescue vehicles, numerous K-9’s, and a helicopter, Michael described.
Riverside Sheriff’s Sgt. Aaron Avila later reported that based on the circumstances and information learned during the prior calls, deputies from Perris Station’s Special Enforcement Team, along with members of the Sheriff’s SWAT and Hazardous Device (Bomb Squad) teams, Riverside County Gang Task Force Region 6, and the Riverside County Sheriff’s K-9 Team, were among others who responded back to the residence.
While the sheriff’s helicopter continuously circled overhead, officials surrounded the family’s home and property, closing off several nearby roads in the process, and began calling for Lucas to come out of the home.
“After about 10 minutes, Lucas came outside with his hands on his head and was taken into custody,” Michael later told RCNS. “He was fully cooperative and put up no resistance whatsoever.”
After Lucas was safely detained and Lucas’ family had turned over the retired Staff Sgt.’s three firearms, officials conducted a thorough search of the home, garage, property, and all its outbuildings.
During their search, deputies located an inert “one-time use” AT-4 rocket launcher – described by Lucas’ family as “a souvenir” from his war-time experience. Officials found the used and unfirable weapon inside the home’s garage, along with an inert and used casing.
When new, not de-commissioned, and properly rendered safe, the AT-4 is a shoulder-fired weapon, capable of firing 84-mm High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) rounds, with an effective firing range of 300 meters, and a maximum range of 2,100 meters.
However, once fired and rendered safe, AT-4’s can be legally purchased and owned by ordinary citizens for less than $250. They can be found online or at gun stores and gun shows, and are typically sought by gun collectors and enthusiasts, as well as former military personnel who once carried and used the weapon during combat.
After Lucas’ arrest, the inert rocket launcher and used shell casing, along with his three firearms were seized by officials.
Lucas was later charged with a single count of firing a weapon at an inhabited dwelling. He was not charged with any weapons-related or other violations.
While Lucas’ family say they understand the precautions deputies felt they needed to take, they believe what he needed was evaluation and help, not being jailed.
“This was an enormous misuse of manpower for one broken man, whose biggest crime was defending his country and mentally vacating life in Afghanistan,” explained Michael.
Rather than receiving the help he needs – Lucas now sits in jail
Since his arrest, Lucas has been sitting in jail, awaiting his next court hearing. In the mean time, Nicole has been able to visit her husband and has hired an attorney, Stephen Allen from the Law Office of McKernan & Allen, APC.
“Lucas is handling this whole situation the best he can,” Nicole tearfully explained. “He’s a good man and former soldier and doesn’t deserve to be locked up.”
“He deserves to be out getting the help he needs and not sitting in a jail cell,” Nicole explained with angry exasperation. “I believe that our Veterans and soldiers who have fought for our freedom deserve better treatment and help with whatever issues they are dealing with. Not to be treated like a criminal.”
According to his family, while sitting in jail, Lucas has still not been evaluated for his disorder “nor was any mention of his mental state included in the sheriff’s official reports, despite the fact that we told them all repeatedly about his condition.”
Now, Lucas’ family is hoping that a judge will consider lowering the incarcerated man’s bail, which was set at $1 million dollars. They are also hopeful that Lucas’ case can be transferred to a military court.
According to Nicole, the family is also hoping the courts can help Lucas receive a relatively new form of treatment for symptoms of PTSD, called Stellate Ganglion Block, or SGB.
“When we found out about this SGB treatment the Army is actually paying for Lucas agreed to give it a try,” Nicole told RCNS. “It’s not a cure by any means but specialists say the treatment helps with symptoms of PTSD.”
“The military broke him into a million pieces”
“PTSD is not something that a proud soldier ever wants to admit when they are having trouble and Lucas tried to get medical help, but the Army brushed him off, saying there was nothing wrong with him,” Lucas’ father angrily asserted. “He is one of the huge segments of young men and women who have served our country with honor, risking their lives every day, yet don’t get the honor or help they deserve because their damage doesn’t show.”
“It’s almost as if the military that Lucas once so proudly served only wants to add him to the staggering list of military-related suicides, so they can close the book on supporting another victim to the 19-year war in the Middle East,” said Michael.
As a final thought, Lucas’ family has asked, “Please ask your readers to say a prayer for all our heroes who sacrificed their lives and for those who sacrificed their bodies and minds for our country, came home broken and are invisible to a government and society that doesn’t really care.”
“Simply put, the military broke him into a million pieces and the horror of reliving the past through therapy is just too much for him to endure.”
Lucas is scheduled to be seen in court this afternoon and his criminal case is ongoing.
Lucas’ family has created a gofundme fundraiser to raise money for PTSD awareness, as well as to raise enough money to bail him out of jail and bring him home so he can get the help he needs as his court case continues. To donate, please visit gofundme.
Lucas and Nicole once shared a happiness and joy they “never thought would end.” Rutledge family photos
SEE ORIGINAL REPORT: AT-4 rocket launcher among weapons seized from Menifee home
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org
Trevor Montgomery, 47, moved last year to the Intermountain area of Shasta County from Riverside County and runs Riverside County News Source and Shasta County News Source. Additionally, he writes for several other news organizations; including Riverside County based newspapers, Valley News, The Valley Chronicle, and Anza Valley Outlook; as well as Bonsall/Fallbrook Village News in San Diego County and Mountain Echo in Shasta County.
Trevor spent 10 years in the U.S. Army as an Orthopedic Specialist before joining the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in 1998. He was medically retired after losing his leg, breaking his back, and suffering both spinal cord and brain injuries in an off-duty accident. (Click here to see segment of Discovery Channel documentary of Trevor’s accident.)
During his time with the sheriff’s department, Trevor worked at several different stations; including Robert Presley Detention Center, Southwest Station in Temecula, Hemet/Valle Vista Station, Ben Clark Public Safety Training Center, and Lake Elsinore Station; along with other locations.
Trevor’s assignments included Corrections, Patrol, DUI Enforcement, Boat and Personal Water-Craft based Lake Patrol, Off-Road Vehicle Enforcement, Problem Oriented Policing Team, and Personnel/Background Investigations. He finished his career while working as a Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Investigator and was a court-designated expert in child abuse and child sex-related crimes.
Trevor has been married for more than 28 years and was a foster parent to more than 60 children over 13 years. He is now an adoptive parent and his “fluid family” includes 13 children and 15 – but soon to be 16 – grandchildren.