‘Self-Medicating’: Former Firefighter Pleads Guilty To Child Porn Possession, Blames PTSD

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Marlo Safi Culture Reporter
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A former firefighter who pleaded guilty Wednesday to possession of child pornography blamed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) he claimed to have developed after a rescue mission went wrong.

Joseph J. Leonetti Jr., a former firefighter and Wilmington Fire Department union president, faces up to 20 years in prison following his guilty plea, The Associated Press (AP) reported.

The defense lawyer, Thomas S. Neuberger, said the PTSD his client developed on the job caused him to turn to pornography “as a way of self-medicating,” according to The News Journal.

PTSD is a disorder that develops in some people after dangerous experiences, and firefighters, police officers and military service members are among the professions prone to developing PTSD. Symptoms can include flashbacks, having nightmares and frightening thoughts, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Neuberger claimed Leonetti’s PTSD began after a woman and her infant grandson died in a fire in 2018. In that incident, Neuberger said the firefighters were not able to enter the burning building in time to save the woman and child.

“That was the trigger,” Neuberger claimed. “This is how he dealt with the emotional injuries.” (RELATED: Middle School Teacher In Texas Arrested On Possession Of Child Pornography) 

Leonetti admitted to viewing pornography on his personal phone, and told U.S. District Judge Colm F. Connolly that he “possessed child pornography,” The News Journal reported. He also said he was taking medicine to treat his PTSD. 

Prosecutors said Leonetti possessed thousands of images depicting child pornography on his cellphone, with access to images and videos through links. The defense reportedly disputed the number of images and said the phone also contained adult pornography.

Leonetti will be under house arrest until he’s sentenced in August.