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Doctors: Howard suffers from significant mental illness; wasn't capable of waiving Miranda rights

Ian Howard mugshot with background.png
Posted at 3:48 PM, Jun 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-09 16:48:43-04

Two doctors who examined Ian Howard say he was too sick to waive his Miranda rights when officers questioned him in the wake of a shooting that left a police officer dead.

Howard, 31, is facing two cases in Lafayette court. In one, he's accused of first-degree murder in the October 2017 shooting death of Lafayette Police Cpl. Michael Middle Brook. In the other, he's accused of three counts attempted first-degree murder for other victims in the same incident. Prosecutors say they will seek the death penalty in the Middlebrook case.

And, while there are two separate cases pending, the decisions regarding Howard's mental state during various stages of the crime will hold in both.

Among other issues, the court must decide if Howard was mentally and cognitively capable of waiving his Miranda rights when he was questioned, and if Howard was able to determine the difference between right and wrong when the crime occurred.

Two reports were filed Monday, attached to defense motions to suppress his statements to police. Both find that Howard was to sick to waive his Miranda rights when questioned.

One of the reports was prepared by Dr. F.T. Friedberg, who has since retired as a clinical psychologist in Lafayette, where he practiced for more than 50 years. In his report, he states he can't diagnose Howard as he saw him only once, but he reviewed his records, including videos of Howard on the day of the offense. He says that the day he saw him Howard was suffering from psychosis and couldn't answer any of his questions; he also said he believed that Howard was unable to waive his Miranda rights the day he was questioned.

"The information I reviewed in Mr. Howard's records describing his functioning and presentation over a course of years is consistent with the classic presentation of a schizophrenia spectrum disorder. I have been practicing for 50 years and evaluated countless patients. In my opinion, Mr. Howard's history is consistent with someone suffering from schizophrenia or some other schizophrenic disorder," Friedberg writes. "This is what it looks like."

The other report was prepared by Dr. Sarah Deland, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Tulane and board-certified general psychiatrist, with added qualifications in forensic psychiatry and addiction medicine. She practices at University Medical Center, is medical director of the state's Region I Community Forensic Service and Aftercare program and is an assistance coroner in Orleans Parish, serving as an appointed sanity commissioner.

In her report, she states that she was hired by Howard's attorneys to examine and evaluate him, and notes she has reviewed extensive records of his, including medical, educational, employment, mental health and criminal records. She also has interviewed Howard 10 times in person and three times remotely. She said that, because of COVID, she has not been able to complete her final report, but is producing this report only on the issue of his ability to properly participate in interrogations.

She says she's confident in the opinion she's expressing, because of the volume of information she reviewed, and the consistency of the information she found.

Deland says it's her opinion that Howard suffers from schizoaffective disorder, and that he was suffering from "this severe mental illness before and at the time of the present offense." The night he was detained, he was suffering from the psychotic symptoms of this illness, and that during that time, including any questioning, Howard's statements "were not the product of a free and rational choice" and that he lacked "the capacity to make a knowing, voluntary and intelligent waiver of his Miranda rights."

Howard's ability to participate in the interrogation also was affected by the physical force he was subjected to, Deland wrote, which included "punching, kicking, being struck by an object and shoved into a wall and to the ground" as well as multiple tasings, and being handcuffed behind his back for more than eight hours while wearing only his underwear in the interrogation room. He had guns pointed at him and was threatened with death, and although he asked for his attorney that request was not "immediately honored," she wrote.

Schizoaffective disorder falls under the category of schizophrenia spectrum disorders, she wrote.

"These are serious mental illnesses involving a thought disorder and problems with reality testing," she explains. "Schizophrenia is a neurodevelopmental illness."

She describes it as a "no fault brain disorder," meaning that it is the result of complex genetic components and epigenetic, or environmental, factors. It is treatable, but it also is a life-long illness that cannot be cured, she adds. For several pages, Deland explains in high technical detail what is known about schizophrenia disorders, and how they affect thinking and actions, and how they are diagnosed.

She then discusses her diagnosis of Howard. First she tells his history, which describes a bright boy seemingly bound for great things who descended into mental illness as he matured.

As a child he was in the gifted and talented program, and as a high school student active in many clubs who was described as a "wonderful student with unlimited potential" in his senior G&T evaluation. He went away to attend college at LSU and almost immediately began "a significant decline," Deland writes.

He was having so much trouble that he was referred to a Lafayette psychologist, who evaluated him when he was 19 and diagnosed him with ADD, even though his symptoms didn't match that diagnosis. At that time Howard was placed on Adderall. But Howard continued to struggle, eventually transferring to a community college and then to UL; after seven years of undergraduate work he finally obtained a degree in English, Deland writes.

During this time, his family noticed significant changes in his personality and thought processes; describing paranoia and bizarre lectures. His family wasn't sure how much of his thought process was rooted in reality, and he couldn't hold a job. He moved to New Orleans, and because he said he was worried about his safety his father gave him a shotgun, Deland wrote. Driving to the city Howard was involved in an incident and was waving the gun around, despite his father's instructions, she wrote.

His appearance deteriorated and he was still unable to hold down a job. He began sending bizarre messages to his friends, and by the fall of 2016 he was hearing voices and having difficulty sleeping. When he began telling his parents that the FBI was surveilling him constantly, even using the kitchen appliances, they tried to find him help. He went to Tyler Mental Health in December 2016, and in January 2017 he was diagnosed with ADD and anxiety at St. Thomas Community Health Center in New Orleans. He was referred to a psychiatrist.

In January 2017, while staying in Lafayette, Howard committed a series of bizarre actions at the Fresh Market, where he tried to steal a cash register and then fled the store. Police found him running from bush to bush, screaming that the FBI was after him in their white vans. The officers took him to UHC, where he was abusive, paranoid and screaming about aliens, the FBI and white vans. He was admitted with a working diagnosis of psychosis vs. amphetamine intoxication, and was held for 72 hours in the emergency room, restrained and chemically sedated, she wrote. The day after his discharge from UCH he was seen at Vermilion Behavioral Hospital, where it was noted his psychotic symptoms had persisted long after any amphetamine (this referred to the Adderall prescription) would have worn off, she wrote.

It was at Vermilion that Howard was finally diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and psychosis. But he declined inpatient care, and although anti-psychotic medication was recommended, he didn't take any. His family was frustrated because he was released, and began to keep track of his behavior. Howard also kept a journal of his delusions, and continued to talk about the FBI pursuing him.

In the weeks before the shooting in October 2017, he deteriorated even more; his co-workers saw him frequently talking to himself and making weird hand gestures. He was fired in September because of his bizarre behavior, and then threatened his supervisors via text. Police were called, and they left him a voice mail telling him to stop.

The night of the shooting, Howard's bizarre behavior continued. He was captured on a doorbell camera at the home of someone he did not know several times that night. He showed up unannounced at a friend's house, making no sense and looking agitated, and he contacted his former co-workers without reason. He went back to the stranger's house, where he had a nonsensical conversation with the homeowner. He then went to the store where the incident occurred, and after two people were shot he left, only to return again and again. The last time, he parked his car, leaving his gun inside, and walked with Middlebrook into the store. He took the storeowner's gun from him and shot Middlebrook, then shot another officer and ran away, but not far, she wrote.

Howard remained in the area, making bizarre statements and behaving erratically. This bizarre behavior continued when he was apprehended, in the ambulance, at the hospital where he was treated for injuries sustained during his apprehension, and in the interrogation room, she wrote.

At the time he was interrogated by police, he "exhibited impaired cognitive and executive functioning resulting from his illness and the psychotic symptoms of that illness," Deland wrote.

"Mr. Howard's illness and active psychotic symptoms at the time of the incident, his arrest and questioning rendered Mr. Howard particularly vulnerable to intended or unintended coercion or inducements," she wrote. "In my opinion, at the time of his detention and subsequent interrogation, Mr. Howard could not make a free and rational decision whether to speak or remain silent, nor what to say, and was not capable of making a knowing, voluntary and intelligent waiver of his Miranda rights."