Culhane a troubled, ill man prior to shooting
Long-time partner disturbed by fatality circumstances
Cathy Guldan is angry.
The long-time partner of Michael Culhane, the man who died as a result of being shot by Monett Police Officer Austin Royster on Sept. 8, Guldan has a death certificate that lists as the underlying cause/manner of death as “homicide.”
Guldan was the only other eyewitness to the shooting, besides Officer Royster. Her account of what happened differs significantly from the information released by Monett Police Chief George Daoud. Her description of Culhane’s injuries do not match the accounts relayed between paramedics and the incoming helicopter, which ultimately refused to transport Culhane.
The Missouri State Highway Patrol investigation is ongoing, and specific information about the encounter will not be released until its completion.
The determination of “homicide” means different things in different contexts. Legal definitions in Missouri speak to intent and the circumstances leading up to the incident. Former Barry County Coroner Skip White said the term is coming into greater use within the medical examiner’s world. To White, the term means “death by someone else’s hand.”
“With the four or five options the coroner has to choose from, ‘homicide,’ and more exactly ‘legal homicide,’ is the nearest one to exactly what happened,” he said.
Missouri state statutes offer several legal definitions for homicide.
When asked who had been responsible for placing “homicide” on the death certificate, and what it meant in this particular case, Charles McManus, deputy coroner for Barry County Coroner Jim Fohn, told The Monett Times, “I don’t have to justify my decisions to you. What are you? A damn pencil pusher? Don’t ever question how I do my job until you know what I do.”
When told The Monett Times had obtained a copy of the death certificate — a public record — McManus asked how it was obtained. The duties of the county coroners’ office includes investigating types of death, coordinating autopsies, holding coroner’s inquests and providing information for death certificates.
The autopsy and toxicology reports for Culhane have not been released. A toxicology report generally takes about six weeks to be completed.
While Guldan may have her own view of what happened, she readily admits Culhane was a troubled man. She attributed some of his problems to exposure to fuel fumes while serving in the Navy. Some mental health issues appear in the family, as she said his youngest sister is a ward of the state in Bakersfield, Calif.
“Most of his life, Michael had mental health issues,” Guldan said. “He was stabilized for a long time. Then, he became allergic to his medication. He had seizures. He lost 50 pounds in three months. They put him back on his medication but he had hives. He was better but he couldn’t function. Recently, he spent eight days in the VA hospital in Fayetteville. I think he felt safe there.
“He changed from fishing and hunting and being with friends to being a recluse. He was always talking about suicide. He was mentally abusive to me, and at one point he was physically abusive. He went from 210 pounds to 145. He just wouldn’t eat. He was a sick man. He needed to be in the hospital a long time so they could see how he really was.”
Culhane recently came back from the Fayetteville VA with 10 different bottles of pills. Seeing them sitting around, Guldan asked, “How are you supposed to take these?’
He answered, “I don’t know.”
She admits she didn’t know who to turn to for help.
“I figured he’d come out of it,” she said.
Guldan blamed her own recent illness for taking a further toll on Culhane. A diabetic, Guldan said she is prone to having her electrolytes swing out of balance. She broke her leg earlier this year and has faced a variety of problems, in addition to being a client through the Clark Community Mental Health Center. Staff suggested she needed some in-patient treatment herself, but she turned them down, not wanting to leave Culhane alone.
Guldan described herself as “a runner,” someone reluctant to commit to a relationship. She preferred to be with Culhane for 15 years without a marriage rather than establishing more permanent ties. Nonetheless, they both purchased the house they shared at 407 N. Central.
The night of the shooting, shortly after Gulden returned home from a brief hospital stay, Culhane was agitated. She called 911, something she now regrets, recognizing he was doing something drastic. She watched him down three bottles of pills: one of the sleeping medication Trazodone and two which she described as mood stabilizers.
Then, he settled in his chair, watching the TV and waiting for police to arrive. He said provocative things, like that he had “a hollow point,” referring to a bullet that can penetrate police body armor. He had a knife as well, which Guldan said he hid from her and used on himself when the officer arrived.
What happened next remains for investigators to disclose. Guldan said she remained on the phone with the 911 dispatcher throughout the incident, leaving an audio account of what happened, including the shooting.
Guldan said after the investigators departed, she was left to clean up the house and what had fallen to the floor from him. She had his blood soaked chair taken outside. A sofa sits in that spot now, with a bullet hole in the wall that she points to as evidence of what happened. A U.S. flag sits on the arm of the sofa, folded and in its custom plastic bag, presented in honor of Culhane’s military service.
“I still see him sitting there,” she said. “I sleep with his flag. It’s the only way I can go to sleep at night.”
Guldan’s sister put her in touch with a personal injury lawyer from Chicago, who appears to be in regular contact with Culhane’s older sister, Sheila Gordon, in Blythewood, S.C.
“I want justice,” Guldan said.
Officer Royster was returned to the active duty roster in Monett last week. No details have yet been released about the nature of the injuries he suffered in the confrontation with Culhane.
As of Sept. 26, a meeting has not taken place between Highway Patrol investigators, Prosecutor Amy Boxx and city officials over details of the case.