Bonnie Petrie

Denver Woman Accused of Faking PTSD to Dodge Jury Duty

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KMGB/ABC News(DENVER) — A Denver woman is facing felony charges for allegedly faking post-traumatic stress disorder to dodge jury duty.

Susan Cole, 57, arrived for jury selection in June looking purposefully disheveled, wearing curlers in her hair and mismatched shoes, according to an affidavit obtained by the Denver Post. Cole reportedly told Denver District Court Judge Anne Mansfield she “broke out of domestic violence in the military” and had “a lot of repercussions,” including PTSD.

“Her makeup looked like something you would wear during a theater performance,” court reporter Kelli Wessels told investigators, according to the Post. “When the judge asked the entire panel if anyone had a mental illness, [Cole] stated she had difficulties getting ready in the morning, which was apparent to me by the way she was dressed.”

Cole was excused from her civic duties. But her plot was foiled four months later when Judge Mansfield heard a woman bragging about how she faked mental illness to evade jury duty on a local radio show. The woman, who called herself “Char from Denver,” was Cole, an author who uses “Char” as a pen name, the Denver Post reported. The Denver District Attorney’s Office Thursday charged Cole with perjury and attempting to influence a public servant.

“As a mental health professional, I find this disturbing and upsetting,” said Dr. Joseph Calabrese, a psychiatrist at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland. “PTSD is a very serious, life-threatening illness. And things like this tend to trivialize it.”

PTSD is an anxiety disorder brought on by a traumatic event, such as domestic abuse. The debilitating symptoms, which include emotional numbing, anger and terrifying flashbacks, increase the risk of suicide.

“I find these sorts of things distracting and inappropriate,” Calabrese said of Cole’s “manipulative” behavior. “That sort of criminal behavior has nothing to do with mental illness.”

Cole’s book, Seven Initiations with El-Way’s Secrets, claims to help readers “deal with difficult relationships and situations” through biblical passages. Cole offered investigators a copy of the book as evidence of her struggle with domestic abuse and mental illness, but was unable to prove she was diagnosed with PTSD, the Denver Post reported.

“I think this is problematic on a number of levels,” said Dr. Adam Brown, clinical assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center. “Mental illness certainly could interfere with someone’s ability to serve on a jury, but it isn’t something as stereotypical as dressing and acting the way she did. Many people have mental illness and you’d never know. They don’t stand out. In that way, I think it contributes to the negative stereotype.”

Brown said PTSD is a relatively new mental health diagnoses, one that certain circles have been slow to accept.

“I think many military veterans are still struggling with taking PTSD seriously, and the stigma of admitting you have it,” he said. “I think anything that contributes to PTSD being seen in a negative light contributes to that.”

The charges against Cole come amid accusations that an Army hospital in Tacoma, Wash., reversed PTSD diagnoses in soldiers to cut costs. Some of the soldiers were reportedly accused of faking symptoms to collect medical retirement benefits.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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