Press-Republican

January 5, 2013

Parents: Former Marine killed by sheriff's deputy had PTSD

By FELICIA KRIEG
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Dusty Michael Clark suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, his mother says.

The Altona man, 28, was shot and killed by Clinton County Sheriff’s Deputy Jason R. Winters on Dec. 30, 2012, after Dusty threatened him with a knife and wouldn’t back down, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

He was diagnosed in 2009 at a Veteran’s Affairs clinic in Albany but was not receiving treatment at the time of his death, said his mother, Sheila Clark of Altona.

“At first, in my heart, I was so hurt (that Dusty died that way),” she said. “In retrospect, I am thinking my son had a flashback” when he grabbed the knife.

The day her son died, Sheila said, one of her brothers shared some information that Dusty had confided to him.

He had been among Marines who responded after the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami that rocked the world on Dec. 26, 2004. 

“He had to take bodies out of the water,” she said. “Dead children.”

He had still agonized over that, her brother had told her.

Winters and Sheriff’s Department Deputy Andrew J. Bertrand had gone to the home to serve Dusty with an arrest warrant after he failed to appear in Altona Town Court on charges of unlicensed operation and unsafe passing, neither of which is a felony.

In the kitchen of the home, Dusty grabbed what his mother described as a steak knife and ignored several warnings from Winter, who was prepared to use a taser if Dusty didn’t drop the weapon and back off, according to Clinton County Sheriff David Favro.

The taser failed to subdue Dusty, and when the man continued to threaten Winters, the sheriff said, the officer drew his weapon, warned Clark again and then shot him.

Preliminary reports said Winters fired two or three times, striking Dusty in the chest area.

An autopsy was performed Monday, but the Sheriff’s Department wouldn’t release its findings.

Sheila thinks she may know what her son was thinking in his last living moments, although she said no one will ever really know.

“In Dusty’s head, it wasn’t going to happen. He wasn’t going to jail.” 

Like her son, Sheila suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, from events dating back to her childhood, she said. 

“I know what it is not to have the proper medication and to fight with these demons in (your) head.”

STRUGGLED OFF AND ON

Edward Clark was not home when his son was killed.

“He was a good person,” he said. “Always would help. If I called him up and needed help, he’d be here.”

Edward said his son, who had never hurt anyone before, had been “off and on” struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.

A couple days before Thanksgiving, Edward had called State Police in hopes that they could help get Dusty to the hospital so he could be evaluated and get treatment for his mental illness, he said.

Dusty was acting strange, Edward said, but not violent. Dusty had never been known to act violently in his life, Edward added.

Police went to his home, Edward said, but could legally do nothing since it appeared Dusty was not a threat to anyone or himself at the time.

Edward said he thinks police training for response to situations like the one that ended Dusty’s life is too aggressive.

“Personally, I think it’s a little too much force.”

‘DIDN’T FIT IN THIS WORLD’

Dusty’s name wasn’t a nickname, Sheila said.

“His father had a car — it was a Plymouth Duster,” she recalled. “When I was pregnant, he said, ‘Do you mind if we name (the baby) Dusty if he’s a boy?’

“It was important to his dad,” she said.

Dusty graduated from Northern Adirondack Central School in 2003, then joined the U.S. Marine Corps.

“I think 9-11 had a lot to do with it,” Sheila said of his decision to serve.

And he had come to know recruiters who often visited NACS, she said, who encouraged him to join.

Dusty’s four-year hitch ended in 2007, Sheila said.

“He got out of the Marine Corps, and he was denied a re-entry (because of the PTSD). He desperately wanted to go back into the Marines, but they wouldn’t let him go back in,” she said. “He became, I guess, a little bit bitter. He felt like he didn’t fit in this world.”

Dusty had a hard time adjusting after leaving the Marines, his mother said.

“He was so used to the structured military life, and it was hard for him to assimilate himself back into civilian life.”

Both Sheila and Edward said they wish veterans had more support once they leave the service.

“Nobody keeps track of them,” she said. “In my heart, someone should go back and check on them every six months or so.”

‘QUIET, QUIET BOY’

Most recently, Dusty had been working in construction, Sheila said.

“Even though he was very smart and did computer networking in the military, he went back to working with his hands because that’s what he loved,” she said.

“Dusty was such a quiet, quiet boy,” she continued. 

“So when the military put him in defense messaging — top-secret stuff — I told him, ‘This is the perfect job for you. People would have to pry your mouth open.”

Beyond simple reticence, though, her son “kept everything inside,” she said.

‘BATTLED DEMONS’

“We just really want it known that Dusty was not this evil, knife-bearing maniac,” said his aunt Deborah Stoner, who is Sheila’s sister. “He was a sweet boy, (but) he had problems.”

Sheila is staying with Stoner, one of her seven siblings, in Altona as she grieves for her son.

“I have tons of support,” she said, “and I have a lot of faith, as Dusty did.”

Dusty’s funeral took place Friday at Holy Angels Catholic Church in Altona; donations in his memory can be made to the Holy Angels Church Building Fund.

Dusty, Sheila said, is in a better place now.

“He had been battling these demons, and I take (consolation), peace in my own heart, knowing that my son doesn’t have to battle demons anymore. 

“He is in God’s hands.”

— News Editor Suzanne Moore contributed to this report.