Elkhorn veteran sentenced for meth making had troubled past
ELKHORN—A cascade of circumstances led to Bryan Tidwell being sentenced to prison Thursday for making methamphetamine.
Tidwell's mother left him to fend for himself when he was 15, said his lawyer, Francis Raff.
Tidwell, a victim of physical abuse, then turned to his neighbor at the time: Charles Kummerow, a man who faces a methamphetamine possession charge in Walworth County.
Raff said it was then that Tidwell, now 33, joined the wrong crowd.
Tidwell said that was one reason he slipped into the world of drugs.
Assistant District Attorney Matthew Leusink said Tidwell's drug use escalated from marijuana to crack cocaine to methamphetamine.
Walworth County Judge Kristine Drettwan sentenced Tidwell, of Elkhorn, to three years in prison and three years of extended supervision. He pleaded guilty March 9 to manufacturing methamphetamine and then later helping deliver the drug while he was free on bond.
Tidwell said another reason he turned to drugs was the physical abuse he suffered as a child. Drettwan and Raff chose not to talk about much in court because of its horrific nature as detailed in the presentence investigation.
“It was very hard to read, and I'm sorry you went through that as a child,” Drettwan said. “No child should be raised that way.”
And then there was the trauma Tidwell experienced while serving with the U.S. Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tidwell, when addressing the court with a written statement, said he first used meth when he was being discharged from the Marines for not disclosing his Crohn's disease, an inflammatory bowel disease.
“All the pain, all the disappointment that was in my heart in the past seemed to fade,” Tidwell said of the first time he tried meth. “It also aided for a short time the depression I was in.”
Raff said Tidwell never handled the post-traumatic stress disorder he suffered from after being discharged at age 20.
Tidwell confided with a sergeant what happened the weekend he used meth. The sergeant set up steps for Tidwell to get rehabilitative care, but Tidwell said the Department of Veteran's Affairs “never participated in those steps.”
“Well, that's discouraging to hear, too,” Drettwan said. “Our system clearly needs an overhaul.”
Raff argued the system also failed Tidwell because he was denied access to drug treatment court. From his first day in jail, Tidwell said he needed treatment for his addiction, Raff said.
“It's easy to look at meth differently from what it is. Meth is a drug, and it's a very addictive drug, just like heroin,” Raff said. “Well, if Mr. Tidwell bought heroin, he would be in drug court or he would have two years of probation with 90 days jail. People would give him a second chance. People would acknowledge he had a problem.”
Walworth County District Attorney Zeke Wiedenfeld has said he is more cautious about letting meth manufacturers into drug court because of the greater danger the drug poses to the community.
Tidwell and his lawyer argued for probation.
The only person watching the sentencing was Tidwell's pregnant fiancé. The child, expected to be born within weeks, will be his third.
“I never want my children to grow up without a father like I did,” Tidwell said. “I want the best for my children, just like any good parent would.”
Tidwell's medical history also contributed to his drug use, he said.
Beyond the Crohn's disease, Tidwell said, he broke his neck March 10, 2016. He “fell into a deep depression” and started using meth again to cope with his issues.
“I was a part of manufacturing methamphetamine three times, a major low in my life, never to be repeated,” he said. “I have never sold drugs, and I used them only as a crutch for my mental issues and physical disabilities.
“Even after arrest, I sought drug treatment for all my problems voluntarily but was always told it was not available for people that manufacture methamphetamine,” he said. “Without my addiction, I would have never made meth.”
Tidwell said he has been on more medications than can be counted on his fingers and toes. He said he has been to the emergency room multiple times since his November arrival at the Walworth County Jail.
The story of Tidwell's life--the abuse, the physical and mental illnesses, the failed attempts to find treatment--were discussed at his sentencing Thursday to show why he deserved probation in lieu of prison.
But his story runs concurrent to another: Meth, a chemically toxic drug that can explode and destroy the area where it is made, is on the rise in Walworth County.
Leusink referenced an article by The Gazette that nine of the 26 meth labs found in Wisconsin since October have been in Walworth County, according to data from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
“(Meth is) spreading out like a plague,” Drettwan said.
The maximum prison sentence Tidwell could have faced was 12 years and six months for each count.
Leusink said the public needs to be protected from people who make meth.
“He didn't just put himself at risk. He didn't just put the lives of others that he gave methamphetamine to (at risk),” Leusink said. “The one-pot method is very dangerous. It's highly susceptible to fire and explosion, and it's toxic.”
Leusink agreed Tidwell had serious rehabilitative needs and said he should be removed from negative peers.
Raff argued Tidwell learned a lesson following a conviction for second-offense drunken driving after driving the wrong way down Interstate 43 at 85 mph with 0.29 blood-alcohol concentration. Tidwell never drank alcohol again after that, Raff said.
But Drettwan pointed out Tidwell was arrested on meth charges while he was released on bond from the manufacturing meth charge.
“You're to be commended for stopping drinking, but you didn't stop everything else,” Drettwan said. “Here you are out on bond, and you start engaging in the same behavior again.”
Still, Drettwan saw the positives in Tidwell's character.
“You are very respectful. And, again, I am commenting on what you have done and your realization of what you have done,” Drettwan said. “But I'm not here saying you are some deeply evil person who deserves to go away for the rest of your life. I hope you recognize that.”
Tidwell held his tears until court was adjourned and his fiancé left the courtroom. Then he started to cry.
“During the time he's been incarcerated, he hasn't been with his pregnant fiancé. That's punishment,” Raff said. “He's lost his family, the little family that he did have. His mom won't talk to him. His sister won't talk to him. He has a 12-year-old daughter, and she is disgusted with him.
“And as far as going to prison or any other punishment he could receive, having your 12-year-old daughter be disgusted with you, not wanting to talk to you, is the punishment that Mr. Tidwell can't handle the most.”