Army reviews troop use after fatal shootings
Published 10:18 pm Wednesday, March 18, 2009
BIRMINGHAM — The Army said Wednesday it opened an inquiry into whether federal laws were broken when nearly two dozen soldiers were sent to a south Alabama town after 11 people died in a shooting spree last week.
State officials said the deployment of 22 military police officers and the provost marshal from Fort Rucker was requested neither by Republican Gov. Bob Riley nor the White House, which typically is required by law for soldiers to operate on U.S. soil.
Col. Michael J. Negard of the Army Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Monroe, Va., said officials are trying to determine who ordered the soldiers to Samson, who requested them, why they were sent and what they did there.
“In addition to determining the facts, this inquiry will also consider whether law, regulation and policy were followed,” he said. He declined further comment.
Former Samson resident Michael McLendon, 28, fatally shot nine victims in the town and killed a 10th in a neighboring county. The March 10 spree ended when McLendon killed himself, and the soldiers arrived in the hours after.
Investigators said McLendon was despondent over his inability to hold a job and his failure to become a Marine or a police officer.
Riley isn’t concerned whether the military overstepped its bounds, said Press Secretary Jeff Emerson.
“From what I understand it was a few folks who came to direct traffic or help where they could,” Emerson said. “If it had been more than what it was there might be a reason for concern, but these folks just came to see if they could help and left.”
The White House press office did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Reporters and curious citizens poured in after the slayings, overwhelming the town of 2,000 near the Florida state line. Samson is about 35 miles from Fort Rucker, the Army’s main helicopter training base.
Samson’s tiny police force and county officers were stretched to the limit after the shootings, which left investigators with at least seven different crime scenes to check for evidence.
Samson Mayor Clay King said he did not know why the soldiers showed up in town, but he was glad they did.
“The only function they did was directing traffic. They took drinks and snacks to other people working crime scenes,” King said. “I’m proud they were here.”
Residents said soldiers from Fort Rucker, a major employer in southeastern Alabama, have a reputation for helping nearby communities in emergencies.
According to a summary by the Congressional Research Service, federal law generally prohibits the armed forces from being used as domestic police. Exceptions include emergencies, when troops can help civilians but don’t directly act as police.
The chairman of the Libertarian Party of Alabama, Stephen Gordon, said while many are worried about the use of Army troops in civilian police roles, he doubts there was anything nefarious about the soldiers in Samson.
“There is no apparent harm here, but the principle still needs to be upheld,” Gordon said. “The barrier has been lowered for the next time, and we really need to take a look at what happened.”