A 94-year-old World War II veteran who said he was “roughed up” and cited after raising a ruckus at the VA Medical Center in North Las Vegas in November had disorderly conduct and attempted theft charges against him dismissed on Tuesday.
Dr. S. Jay Hazan, who got in trouble for grabbing the keys to a shuttle bus after the driver refused to take him straight home from a doctor’s appointment, was informed by U.S. Magistrate Judge George Foley that the charges would be dropped, provided he stays out of trouble for 60 days.
But Hazan, who could have been fined and imprisoned for up to a year, wasn’t celebrating his victory as he slowly walked down the courthouse steps with his pro-bono attorney, Al Lasso.
“What are these SOBs going to do to prevent this from happening again?” he asked his counsel.
“I think your first instinct is to fight,” Lasso responded, “but this is the best case.”
Hazan had arrived for his arraignment hearing via a shuttle bus prepared to argue his case, his white hair neatly combed, the buttons on his suit jacket gleaming and a tiny black briefcase containing his notes clutched in his hand.
The former Army soldier who became a psychiatrist and treated other WWII vets in Germany after the war ended, met his attorney, who volunteered his services after reading about Hazan’s run-in with the law in the Review-Journal, in the lobby.
“It’s a pleasure. It’s an honor actually,” Lasso said, shaking his hand.
The attorney said his late father served in the Navy during the Korean War, and he has a soft spot for veterans. He wanted to make sure Hazan, a war hero in his mind, wasn’t prosecuted for the dust-up at the VA center.
When they entered the courtroom, the doctor admired the wooden walls and pews.
“This is pretty swanky,” he said.
“Oh, it’s big time, federal court,” Lasso replied.
Hazan said he wanted to make a few points during his day in court: Who reported him to security personnel at the VA Center? Why did the director not return his calls after the incident? How can we ensure this won’t happen again?
But they were all moot, as Hazan, who struggled to hear the judge, was not invited to address the court.
Instead Foley approved an agreement that Lasso and Lt. Detective Michael Reyna from the VA Police had struck for pretrial diversion. The judge ordered Hazan to appear again on May 7 for the charges to be formally dismissed.
“No fine, no nothing,” Lasso told his client afterward. “Just stay out of trouble, and it all goes away.”
“I have to keep quiet,” Hazan acknowledged.
The charges against Hazan arose from an incident on Nov. 30, when he said he waited more than two hours at the hospital entrance for a Medic Coach Services van to pick him up after the last of three doctor’s appointments that day.
When the driver finally arrived, he told Hazan that he had other people to pick up.
“I said, ‘No. I’ve been here since 3 o’clock. I have to go home. I’m a diabetic,’” Hazan said.
When the driver refused to take him directly home, Hazan said he felt like he had no choice but to grab the van’s keys out of the ignition.
“My feeling was, God damn it, I’m going to stop it,” Hazan said. “It was like I was back in the Battle of the Bulge.”
Other vets on the docket
Phillip Harper, a security guard at the courthouse, said Hazan is not the only local veteran to get frustrated by the quality of their medical care or other issues.
“We get a lot of that,” he said. “People get frustrated with the VA.”
In fact, eight other veterans also were arraigned on Tuesday, many of them, like Hazan, facing similar disorderly conduct charges. Most were told that they, too, would be cleared if they stayed out of trouble for 60 days.
One had died before he got to see his day in court, Reyna said.
Hazan was the only one of the vets who was represented by an attorney.
“Without this angel, I wouldn’t know what to do,” Hazan said, pointing to Lasso.
“Well, without this angel, none of us would be here. World War II veterans, we’ll never know what they went through,” the attorney responded.
With that, Hazan was on his way home. But he didn’t have to wait for a shuttle.
This time his attorney was driving.