Congressmen push for solution to Fort Hood juvenile prosecutions

Following revelations that serious incidents of juvenile sexual assault at Fort Hood have gone unprosecuted, members of Congress are seeking to close a jurisdictional gap at the massive Army post.

“Our office is in contact with the Army, the department of justice and our state and local officials with the goal of finding a solution that works in the best interest of justice,” said Corry Schiermeyer, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. John Carter, the Round Rock Republican who represents parts of Fort Hood and surrounding Bell County.

A Statesman investigation last week found that several incidents of sexual assault by teenagers at Fort Hood in recent years have not been prosecuted. An internal Fort Hood legal memo complained that just a “handful” of 39 juvenile sexual assault cases between 2006 and 2012 had been referred for prosecution.

In 2012, the mother of 10-year-old boy sexually abused by his 13-year-old stepbrother over a series of years brought the issue to Fort Hood lawyers after federal and local prosecutors declined to pick up the case.

And at least as far back as 2005, an Army investigator complained about the lack of legal action against a 16-year-old male accused of molesting a 5-year-old girl in 2001.

“Our office has contacted Army headquarters in the Pentagon to get more information and an explanation of what they are doing to fix the problem,” said an aide to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn.

Fort Hood officials said they are looking into the issue, noting that it involves coordination with federal, state and local authorities.

Because Fort Hood is under exclusive federal jurisdiction, juvenile crimes on the post are handled by federal prosecutors in Waco. But federal courts are ill-equipped and little-disposed to handle juvenile crime and rarely take such cases. U.S. attorneys can refer juvenile crimes on military installations to county prosecutors, who typically handle juvenile crime. But according to Bell County Judge Jon Burrows, “such referrals have been infrequent” in the county that surrounds much of Fort Hood.

Other military installations have taken steps to remedy the situation by entering into formal agreements with county prosecutors to handle their juvenile cases. Fort Knox in Kentucky and Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington, among others, have ceded jurisdiction of juveniles to county authorities in a legal move called retrocession, which gives local prosecutors responsibility for those cases.

Burrows said Bell County “would have no objection to a more formal” agreement with Fort Hood, while being willing to continue to take “timely referrals” on a more informal basis.

“The only issue might be in the costs of referrals of juvenile(s) to both in- and out-of-county treatment centers, which we would look to Fort Hood for payment,” Burrows said. “I am not sure if Fort Hood has funds designated for such treatments.”

Officials in Coryell County, which also encircles Fort Hood, did not respond to requests for comment.

Army policy calls for commanders to give back any jurisdiction deemed “unnecessary” to state authorities, and the process for such retrocession must be initiated by Army commanders. Fort Hood commander Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland is currently serving overseas as the leader of the coalition fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

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