A Fredericton man charged in connection with a knife attack at Eastern College that sent three people to hospital in January has been found fit to stand trial, but not criminally responsible for his actions because of a mental disorder.
Luke Powers, 31, appeared in Fredericton provincial court on Tuesday after undergoing 60 days of psychiatric assessment at the Restigouche Hospital Center in Campbellton.
Powers, who is charged with two counts of indictable aggravated assault, and one count of indictable assault, admitted to the facts of the case, but says he doesn't remember what happened.
One instructor and two students were sent to hospital with injuries ranging from minor to serious from a 43-centimetre machete-style knife on Jan. 20. The instructor required surgery.
The courtroom heard that Powers swung the knife like an axe, striking a friend in the head multiple times. He also admitted to slashing an instructor on the head, arm and hand, and to biting another student who helped to subdue him.
Powers said he had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but was not on medication and "blacked out" after he arrived at the school that day. He could not provide any reason for the attack.
Powers pleaded guilty Tuesday to committing the acts. But the psychological assessment prepared for the court found he could not be found criminally responsible for his actions due to a mental disorder at the time they occurred.
"That doesn't mean that Mr. Powers walks free today," said defence lawyer T.J. Burke. "What it means is that he is not criminally responsible on the portion of the mens rea component of the offence."
Powers has been ordered to return to the Restigouche Hospital Center under the jurisdiction of the New Brunswick Board of Review and a hearing will be held within 45 days to determine what treatment he requires.
Burke told reporters his client will "not be going anywhere soon."
Help for PTSD sufferers needed, defence says
Powers is a former soldier and Burke said the report indicates he is suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder.
"Mr. Powers clearly indicates that he has no recollection of the events," said Burke. "Mr. Powers suffered from a variation of disorders, a very difficult personal past which culminated to a point where he suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder."
Burke did not say the PTSD related specifically to Powers's military service, but noted he had a physically and mentally abusive upbringing, a serious accident in the military in which "he caught on fire," and a bad marriage breakup.
"The discharge from the military was kind of the downswing for Mr. Powers's personal life," he said.
'Because there isn't any significant help, or there isn't any place for these individuals to turn to, this is what's happening. They are ending up before the courts on criminal charges.' - T.J. Burke, defence lawyer
Burke also represents Cpl. Ron Francis, who is involved in a high-profile fight with the RCMP over the care and treatment of RCMP officers with post-traumatic stress disorder. Francis was prescribed medicinal marijuana to cope with his PTSD and was suspended by the force after he was photographed smoking it in his RCMP dress uniform.
"Somebody really needs to get control of this issue," Burke told reporters. "There needs to be, in my opinion, some form of unit … some type of federal or provincial agreement that helps people who are suffering from this very serious disorder.
"We've seen it in the Francis case. Now we see it in the Powers case and there really is limited care. Somebody really needs to get out in front of this issue," he said.
"There should be a call for this type of assistance for soldiers, first-line responders like firefighters, EMT, police officers. We can see that these front-line individuals are suffering from some serious issues and they need help.
"Because there isn't any significant help, or there isn't any place for these individuals to turn to, this is what's happening. They are ending up before the courts on criminal charges.
"Everybody handles these issues differently psychologically," said Burke. "Unfortunately, for Mr. Powers and his classmates and the victims of Eastern College, this is the outcome of somebody who hasn't had assistance for his post-traumatic stress disorder. There really needs to be more done for them."
Police were called about a disturbance at the private career college on Prospect Street about 8:25 a.m. By the time officers arrived, students and staff had managed to subdue the suspect.
Students described hearing screams and seeing blood.