AUBURN — When Bartolo Ford rammed two police cruisers with his dump truck, he might have known his actions were wrong or he might have been incapable of controlling them. It depends on which psychiatrist is asked.
Opposing lawyers at Ford's trial in Androscoggin County Superior Court, where he's charged with aggravated attempted murder, called their respective expert witnesses Wednesday to tell the jury whether Ford intended to kill a local police officer on the night of Sept. 15, 2008.
During a high-speed chase from Auburn to Poland, Ford, 49, of Lisbon, rammed two cruisers, disabled a third and chased a fourth before his eventual arrest. Four police officers testified Wednesday that they tried to get Ford to surrender.
He could have been having a flashback to his military service in the Persian Gulf War and thought he was attacking the Iraqi enemy, a psychiatrist testified at Ford's trial Wednesday morning.
Dr. John Dorn, who testified for the defense, said the flashing lights of a police car could have triggered an episode of post traumatic stress disorder for Ford, who was a truck driver in the U.S. Army Reserve during Operation Desert Storm.
There, he witnessed the aftermath of an enemy missile that wounded and killed U.S. troops. In Kuwait, Ford shot and killed an Iraqi soldier who pointed a gun at him, he told doctors.
“He was attacking the enemy as he saw it,” on that night two years ago, Dorn said. The continuous sound of sirens and the sight of flashing lights could have kept him in a psychotic state throughout the ordeal, Dorn said.
A contributing factor accounting for Ford's behavior might be that scar tissue on his frontal lobe could have caused a type of seizure, Dorn said. Ford suffered a head injury during a 1992 car accident.
Dorn has been treating Ford with psychotherapy starting a few months after Ford went on a rampage and ended up in the woods in Poland before surrendering to a Maine State Police trooper on Route 26. He had been shot in the hip by the driver of one of the police cruisers he smashed with his truck.
Dorn said a third component of Ford's bizarre behavior that night could be explained by the collection of medications he was taking at the time, including two antidepressants and a sedative.
That combination could have caused Ford to become delirious, or “wig out,” Dorn said.
Ford isn't faking his PTSD claim, Dorn said, calling Ford's condition “the real deal.”
On cross-examination, Dorn said he viewed police cruiser videotapes of the prolonged chase, but didn't review police records of the incident, hospital records or government records of Ford's treatment or hospitalization over the years. Dorn said most of his information came from Ford.
Dr. Carlyle Voss, a Portland psychologist, who through court orders is hired by the State Forensic Service to evaluate defendants facing criminal charges, said he believed Ford suffered from PTSD, but that he knew that what he did that night was wrong.
“He knows it was wrong to resist arrest and not follow police orders; all of that he knows was wrong,” Voss said when asked by Deputy District Attorney Craig Turner.
At the same time, Voss conceded, “he does have a major mental illness.”
Ford's judgment that night was impaired, Voss said. But he didn't think a flashback would last as long as the entire chase, during which Ford had, at times, eluded police and their lights and sirens.
During two interviews with Ford last year, Voss said the defendant claimed his memory of events that night was spotty. He remembered being told to put his hands up and he remembered being shot.
Although Ford's dosage of Zoloft had been doubled five days before the incident and a second antidepressant added, Ford apparently had been able to work that week without problems, Voss said.
Defense attorney Daniel Lilley of Portland questioned Voss' conclusions.
“Do you believe he was psychotic?” Lilley asked.
“No,” Voss said. Later, he said PTSD “would not cause this extended type of behavior.” Those episodes are typically “fairly short,” he said.
The state rested its case. The defense has one more witness to call, who isn't available until Friday. The trial is expected to go to the jury by noon Friday.