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Iraq vet in Moorhead accused of molesting teen girl claims PTSD blackout

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MOORHEAD – An arrest warrant has been issued for a Moorhead man charged with molesting a 15-year-old girl during what he claimed was a blackout brought on by post-traumatic stress disorder he developed after serving in Iraq.

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Charging documents say another person called police after the alleged victim told her she’d been molested, upon which responding officers found the man, Paul Martin Richard Houle, 33, standing in his backyard holding a gun.

According to court documents filed Tuesday in Clay County District Court, the girl told a Clay County Social Services investigator that on June 13, she and Houle were watching a movie when he told her the feeling of combat was better than the feeling of sexual gratification. He then showed her pornographic videos on his tablet computer and asked her how she felt.

She told the social services worker Houle then asked her to come into his bedroom, where he touched her inappropriately. She said she eventually pushed him away and ran into the bathroom, where she called another person to tell her what had happened, court documents state.

When that person went to find Houle, who told police he suffers from PTSD after serving in Iraq, she found an empty gun holster, but not Houle, court documents say. Officers arrived to find Houle holding the gun in his backyard.

They managed to get the gun away from him and persuade him to go to the hospital, documents state.

Houle told officers he had been drinking and had gone to bed, and recalled only having had a PTSD episode, grabbing his gun and running outside for cover, police allege in the court complaint. He told officers he fell asleep behind a tree and woke up to find the police there.

In a second interview with police, Houle said he only recalled watching a movie, then being in the backyard with police pointing guns at him, police state in court records. He told police he did not recall any of the events the girl described.

Houle was charged in Clay County District Court with second-degree criminal sexual conduct with a person between the ages of 13 and 15, when that person has authority over the victim. A conviction would carry a prison term ranging from 7½ to 25 years, based on state sentencing guidelines and depending on criminal history.

Prosecutor Pam Harris said she could not elaborate on how Houle has authority over his victim.

She said that it’s not rare in Clay County to find veterans who are charged with assault-type crimes, given the number of veterans who live in the area. However, Harris said, it is rare for someone to claim combat-based PTSD as a defense against a molestation charge.

John Lyon, a therapist with the Village Family Service Center in Fargo, said it “seems incredibly unlikely” that PTSD stemming from combat would have resulted in a blackout state during which someone might molest a child.

Lyon, who has treated some veterans with PTSD, said PTSD is “a normal reaction to abnormal events. It’s the brain sort of reacting to keep you safe.”

He said people with PTSD often have strong reactions to stimuli that are like the original trauma they experienced, such as loud noises, even when not in combat-type situations. They often find themselves repeating the behavior they did when the trauma first occurred, he said.

Lyon hasn’t heard about blackout states or disassociation in PTSD patients, he said. “That hasn’t been my experience at all.”

Lyon has also worked with many sex offenders who are also PTSD sufferers, he said.

Harris said Clay County officials have been working for some time to establish a veteran’s court there – a diversionary court for veteran offenders. However, most similar courts have barred some cases alleging violent crimes or felonies from being eligible.

Houle’s first court appearance has not yet been set.

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