'It weighs on you': Coleman's prison guard brother seeks PTSD payout

News-DemocratFebruary 8, 2014 

Chris Coleman

— Prison guard Brad Coleman contends that despite years of walking the tough tiers in Illinois' largest prison, anguish about the welfare of a particular murderer he has known all his life mentally pushed him over the edge.

That murderer is his brother, Chris Coleman, who is serving life without parole in an out-of-state prison for strangling his wife and two young sons in the family's Columbia home so he could be free to marry his girlfriend.

Brad Coleman contends that constant concern about his older brother, who was convicted in 2011, caused him to acquire post-traumatic stress disorder.

He said that after his brother's conviction, he was haunted by his duties as a Menard Correctional Center guard and the faces he saw daily of inmates doing life that reminded him of Chris, who will never be free.

Brad Coleman said that is what drove him to apply for a disability award that could pay him half his Menard salary, or $32,000 per year for seven years.

The approximately $224,000 tax-free settlement would come from the State Employees' Retirement System. A physician signed off on his disability claim.

"It's the (prison) environment. It weighs on you," Brad Coleman said when asked about the disability claim. "I wouldn't want anyone else to go through this."

While he is on unpaid leave from his state job, the 35-year-old Coleman works as a barber at his Chester business, Uptown Barbers, and as a part-time cop for the village's police department.

Symptoms of PTSD, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, include, nightmares, vivid memories or flashbacks that a traumatic event is reoccurring, depression, feeling anxious, jittery or irritated and "thinking that you are always in danger." The syndrome often affects combat soldiers and rape victims.

Chester Police Chief M. Ryan Coffey said that while "the circumstances of this situation are unique," he does not believe the public would be in any danger when an armed Coleman patrols the streets.

Provided with details of Coleman's situation, Dr. Roger K. Pitman, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School who has written widely about PTSD, said "it would be a stretch" to confirm his claim. Pitman cautioned, however, that he cannot make a medical diagnosis without first examining a patient.

Brad Coleman said that while he is able to work in his own business and patrol the streets of Chester as a cop, he can no longer handle the guard job. Just seeing lifers like his brother Chris wore him down mentally, he said.

"It's been a nightmare," he said. He declined further comment.

Coleman's disability application is classified as "non-occupational," said executive director Tim Blair of the State Employees' Retirement System, which is primarily paid for by taxation although worker's contribute about 4 percent of their salaries. Such a claim can be because of events connected to something outside the job, such as an automobile accident injury or a traumatic experience not directly connected to being a guard.

"He has applied and his application is being considered consistently with other applications," Blair said. State and federal privacy laws prevented him from providing specific details, he said.

Tom Shaer, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Corrections, said that because of federal privacy laws he could not provide any medical information but confirmed that Coleman applied for a disability payment.

In a written statement, Shaer said Coleman submitted his application Nov. 24. It is still under consideration.

Shaer said that during the application process, state regulations required Coleman to use accumulated vacation and sick days to keep his state paycheck. Those paychecks ended recently and he is no longer being paid by the Department of Corrections, Shaer said Thursday.

During his brother's two-week trial, Brad Coleman sat with his mother, who entered the courthouse in a wheelchair. He was present every day and saw the grisly death photos of his sister-in-law and nephews who were strangled in their beds. Brad Coleman heard sordid sex tapes and photos depicting Chris Coleman and his girlfriend, and heard testimony of how his older brother tried to make it seem like the family had been targeted for violence by unknown would-be assailants.

The day of his brother's conviction on May 5, 2011, Brad Coleman heard the cheers and celebratory horn honking from more than a hundred onlookers at the Monroe County Courthouse in Waterloo. After his brother had been whisked back to the Monroe County Jail in a sheriff's department car, Brad Coleman, surrounded by television cameras, loaded his mother's wheelchair into the trunk of the family car.

Contact reporter George Pawlaczyk at gpawlaczyk@bnd.com or 618-239-2625. Contact reporter Beth Hundsdorfer at bhundsdorfer@bnd.com or 618-239-2570.