Stress disorder suspected in attack

Experts in post-traumatic stress disorder said Tuesday it's possible the condition could have contributed to Cliff Finch's actions during a police chase and shootout Monday.

Finch, 58, father of Olympic snowboarder Andy Finch, remains in critical condition at Community Regional Medical Center after being shot multiple times. Tuesday, Finch's family offered more details about the days leading up to the shootout and the steps they tried to take to get him help.

"He's been as stable as a rock," Craig Finch said of his brother. "But when he broke, we knew it. We knew it was not Cliff."

Police said that regardless of Cliff Finch's state of mind, they responded the only way they could to an armed suspect who refused to stop and then fired at officers.

"Throughout this whole case, we were put in situations where we were left with little or no options," said Fresno police spokesman Jeff Cardinale. "Cliff Finch ran from officers, refused to surrender and shot first."

Craig Finch said he believes his brother did not know what he was doing when he ran from police and shot at them.

Cliff Finch has been charged with two counts of attempted murder of a police officer. Tuesday, Police Chief Jerry Dyer announced that officers had recovered a second loaded weapon from Finch's truck, along with a box of .223 caliber ammunition.

Investigators have found evidence, Dyer said, that Cliff Finch fired at least two shots at officers from a handgun, which also was recovered.

No police officers were injured. The four officers involved in the shooting have not been identified.

The chase and shootout came at the end of a series of events that led Cliff Finch's family to believe he was suffering a flashback to his days in Vietnam, or from PTSD.

Post-traumatic stress is an anxiety disorder that can flare up years or even decades after a traumatic event. It can make sufferers forgetful or cause them to avoid their family. The disorder can result in a lack of concentration or increased risk taking.

And in some cases, it can result in violent outbursts.

Some of the symptoms Cliff Finch displayed during the weekend episode, from forgetfulness to avoidance and isolation, match that disorder, said Dr. Hani Khouzam, a staff psychiatrist at Fresno's Veterans Administration hospital. Khouzam said, however, that based on what he had read about the case, not every symptom matched.

Khouzam and other mental health professionals said Cliff Finch's actions resemble other cases where veterans suffering from survivor's guilt have attempted "suicide by cop."

Craig Finch said police should have taken his brother's possible PTSD into account and handled the situation differently. Police said they did not know the family believed Finch was suffering PTSD.

Craig Finch said his brother's life has been changed forever.

"He could have been shooting Viet Cong for all he knew," Craig Finch said. "There should be a response team from the VA that goes out for these vets that are going AWOL like this."

He said his family was trying to work with Cliff Finch to persuade him to seek treatment when he took a handgun from his home and went looking for his wife, Joanie.

She had been granted a protective order Sunday from the Morro Bay Police Department. Cliff Finch had left a restaurant there without paying a bill, then couldn't remember what happened when confronted by police; family members worried that was a symptom of a PTSD-related breakdown and that he was a threat to others.

Tim Olivas, a commander with Morro Bay police, said Joanie Finch knew where her husband had eaten breakfast and saw his response as one of several changes she had seen in previous days.

"She was fearful about the changes," Olivas said. "There was no physical abuse, but he was acting out of character."

A relative paid the breakfast bill, the commander said.

After returning to Fresno, family members began to plan a way to get Cliff Finch into the VA hospital. After he rebuffed direct attempts, Craig Finch said, family members tried to figure out a way to convince Cliff Finch to seek help, or to trick him into going in for treatment by using a cover story.

"That was our plan for the day when all of this happened," Craig Finch said.

Officials at the Fresno VA hospital said they could not comment on Cliff Finch specifically but maintained that they would not have been able to participate in any plan to coerce or trick him into receiving treatment.

"That's not our role," said Dr. Nestor Manzano, chief of mental health services. "We would try to convince a patient to seek help, but could not trick or coerce."

Manzano said mental health providers are trained to contact police if they believe a patient could become violent or present a threat to others. Making that call, Manzano said, is difficult.

"It's a scary situation. One of the questions the police will ask is 'Do they have weapons?' " Manzano said. "You're putting a person who already is experiencing problems in another stressful situation. You are also putting the police in a difficult position."

Monday, it was Joanie Finch who called Fresno police to say her husband was armed and coming for her. Craig Finch said that when police first spotted his brother driving in his truck, they should have backed off.

"Why didn't they [police] do what they normally do and follow at a distance and not alarm him?" Craig Finch asked. "The system failed."

Deputy police chief Roger Enmark said his department followed procedures:

"This was a pursuit of a man that was armed and dangerous. His wife had an emergency protective order placed on him to protect her safety. We had information that he was looking for his wife and was angry. The officers tried to make a traffic stop on the suspect, and he chose to try and evade them. With the information we had, the choice to pursue him was the right choice."