A Burlington man who made possible threats last December toward the distribution process for the COVID-19 vaccine shots in Vermont has been found competent to stand trial in federal court for a felony gun charge.
Aaron R. Loucks, 28, formerly of Charlotte, will remain at the Southern State Correctional Center in Springfield for at least one more week after Assistant U.S. Attorney Eugenia Cowles objected on safety grounds to a proposed release plan.
Chief Federal Judge Geoffrey W. Crawford, sitting in Rutland, said Wednesday afternoon he wanted to know more about the monitoring controls that would be in place should he authorize the release of Loucks.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives arrested Loucks in early January on a criminal complaint for unlawful possession of a firearm while being a known user of drugs, court records show. It was part of that investigation the ATF learned Loucks had said he had serious concerns about the distribution of vaccine shots for COVID-19.
ATF Special Agent Eric Brimo wrote one source advised in December that Loucks was under the belief the government and the “deep state” were after him and he made mention that he believed the COVID-19 screening precautions were a part of the government conspiracy to gain control over the population.
Brimo said several notes from Loucks were seized as part of the joint investigation. One note listed tactics and strategies, and others listed hospital locations, pharmacies, prisons, long-term care, primary care, EMTs, nurses, doctors, colleges and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont, court records show.
One note noted “Vaccine Deceivers:” with “Pfizer/Moderna,” “US Postal Service” and “Police Force” listed below, Brimo wrote.
Loucks has been held since early January and several attempts were made to obtain a mental health evaluation at an out-of-state federal medical facility, possibly in Fort Worth, Texas, but because of COVID and transportation logistics the plans fell through. The court later agreed to an examination in Vermont.
Crawford said during the hearing, the mental health report indicated Loucks could stand trial. It was done by John Holt, a licensed psychologist with the Vermont Forensic Assessment in Shelburne, records show.
“I’m satisfied competency has been shown,” Crawford said.
Cowles and Assistant Federal Defender Elizabeth Quinn said they had both read the report and agreed.
Quinn then asked to have Loucks released into a structured setting where his mental health issues could be addressed. She proposed he be sent to Dismas House and he could get strong support. Also, she said he would be part of an intensive outpatient mental health program at Crossroads.
Cowles said the prosecution and U.S. Probation Office were concerned because Dismas House is not set up to provide 24/7 oversight. She said community safety would be an issue if he were to be released.
She said if Loucks’ mental health slips and he “begins another cycle” he could be in a position to hurt others. Also, she was concerned that Loucks had balked at some medications while in prison.
Quinn maintained Loucks had concerns about possible side effects and that the medical staff at the prison could not deal with them. She said her client was inclined to wait until he was released and have better trained medical personnel available.
Cowles told the court that it is very likely that Loucks will be formally indicted shortly by a federal grand jury in the case.
Crawford said the Springfield prison, where Loucks is held, has an on-site medical facility that might better suit his mental health issues, including medication requirements. Crawford said Loucks would not qualify to go to the state hospital in Berlin.
He urged Quinn to find an alternative to Dismas House that can better monitor Loucks to ensure he remains stabilized.
Crawford said he previously sat on the governing board of Dismas House and believes it is not as well suited to handle this kind of case. Under questioning from Crawford, Quinn said she had shared a copy of the criminal complaint with Dismas so it understands the case.
Crawford said he would hold another court hearing in 7-10 days to see if the defense had developed a more acceptable plan. In the meantime, Crawford suggested to Loucks that he consult with Quinn about resuming his medication at the prison in anticipation of continuing it on the outside should he be released.
Brimo, the ATF Special Agent, said in his written complaint in January that witnesses were concerned Loucks had deteriorating mental status, was involved in violent incidents, and had desires to obtain firearms. Some sources of information for the Howard Center indicated Loucks can be violent particularly when using controlled substances, Brimo said.
Court records show from Dec. 15 indicated Loucks had used LSD in the previous two weeks, the ATF said.