Lawyer: Minn. SWAT officer who robbed bank saw life crumbling, sought death for insurance cash

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — As a Minneapolis police SWAT officer, Timothy Carson was trained to protect citizens in the most dangerous situations. As a former Marine, he was credited with saving lives in Iraq.

But in the months before he robbed a suburban bank — capping what authorities say was a three-week stretch of smaller holdups — the father of two was so overwhelmed by financial problems, a sick daughter, anxiety, and nightmares that he "just wanted to die," according to a document filed Friday in federal court.

Federal defender Andrea George is asking U.S. District Judge Patrick Schiltz to give Carson the minimum seven years in prison, and five years supervised release, for his guilty plea on counts stemming from the bank robbery, saying he needs psychological treatment, not a lengthy prison sentence.

Prosecutors are seeking at least 9½ years in prison, according to a March plea agreement.

Carson's family members, including his wife, have declined to be interviewed. A spokesman said in a Friday e-mail that the family was reviewing the document.

Carson's January arrest left many wondering how a once-respected officer could turn his gun on the public he swore to protect. George's document indicates he was a tormented man who saw no way out.

"His world was falling apart," she wrote.

Carson, 29, realized in November that his death could bring his wife a $250,000 insurance payout, according to a psychological evaluation George cited in her filing. He made a plan to commit a robbery and end his life in a confrontation with police. He told the psychologist he committed his first robbery — throwing up before and afterward — but didn't get caught.

So, he decided: "I might as well just keep going until I get killed. That way my family will have some money until the insurance check arrives," the document said.

He allegedly carried out 12 robberies or attempted robberies in Minneapolis and its suburbs over three weeks. George said she had no comment on state charges pending in those cases.

On Jan. 6, Carson entered the Wells Fargo bank in Apple Valley shortly after it opened, jumped on the counter wearing a mask, pointed a gun at the frightened tellers and made off with $4,580 before heading to work at the police department — arriving an hour late for his 9 a.m. shift, according to court documents.

Shortly beforehand, he had been pulled over for driving without a front license plate. The Apple Valley police officer checked Carson's police ID and driver's license and let him go. But the same officer saw Carson's car in the area again moments after the robbery. Carson was arrested later that day.

Carson said he felt "relieved" when he was arrested, according to the evaluation. Afterward, he confessed to other robberies, an FBI affidavit said.

A Wells Fargo spokeswoman said the bank tellers could not talk about the robbery. But a clerk in one of Carson's other alleged holdups said Carson pointed a gun at her and repeatedly ordered her to the ground.

Jean McLaren, 54, a clerk at Hiawatha Dry Cleaners, said she was terrified she'd be killed, and thought about her three grandkids. When she later learned Carson was a police officer, she said: "I felt really sorry for him, because then I realized there were some kind of mental health issues going on there."

Minneapolis police say Carson is "no longer with" the department.

Carson joined the Marine Corps Reserves out of high school in 2000 and served with the Minneapolis-St. Paul-based 4th Marine Division for six years, including a tour in Iraq in 2004. He earned several awards, including the Armed Forces Reserve Medal, the Combat Action Ribbon and the Navy and the Marine Corps Achievement Medal — received for actions during a mortar attack at Camp Ramadi in May 2004.

That attack killed six and wounded 30. According to a recommendation for the award, Carson ran toward the injured, some of whom had "severe sucking chest wounds," and administered first aid. He's credited with saving many lives, but George wrote Carson was haunted by one Navy sailor he couldn't save.

George's filing cites letters written to the court from fellow Marines who said Carson was respected and that they would trust him with their lives. Letters from family members said he returned home a different man who seemed to have lost his zest for life.

Carson attended the University of Minnesota, where he met his future wife. One relative wrote in a letter cited by George that the relationship was "toxic." Carson's girlfriend became pregnant, and they married.

The couple's daughter, now 4, has had several illnesses, including respiratory and stomach issues and food allergies, according to George. She also was diagnosed with a rare condition involving inflammation of the blood vessels.

While Carson was overwhelmed by his daughter's illness and dealing with the financial strain of caring for her, his wife told him she had cancer when she didn't, George wrote. Carson believed his wife because she had cuts she claimed were from biopsies, intravenous marks from chemotherapy, and hair loss.

"She cut herself to simulate the effects of a biopsy," the attorney wrote. Carson's wife admitted her behavior in June 2007 but threatened suicide if he left her, George said.

The psychologist who evaluated Carson said a full review of the woman's medical records revealed she never had cancer, and interviews with Carson's parents and the woman's adoptive parents confirm the disease was fabricated.

In December 2007, Carson's wife told him their daughter had been molested, and Carson became obsessed with the man he thought responsible, George wrote. He now believes his wife lied. George said the alleged molestation wasn't reported to police until a year later, and the case wasn't prosecuted.

Carson acted unaffected by his combat experience, but was experiencing anxiety and feelings of guilt, George wrote. In October, he battled symptoms of depression and thought himself an inadequate father and husband. He was hearing voices, and has been diagnosed with major depressive disorder and PTSD, she said.

George cited in her filing a letter written by Tom Buffie, a former Marine who served with Carson in Iraq.

"I confidently trusted my life with him," Buffie wrote. "I do not understand what caused Carson to make the choices he did, but I do know ... he needs our understanding and help."