Pentagon asks for review of juvenile prosecutions throughout Army

Army officials have requested that Army installations re-examine their handling of juvenile crime “as situations arise” in the wake of an American-Statesman investigation that found wide jurisdictional gaps at Fort Hood that had allowed serious cases of sexual assault to go unprosecuted.

Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Jennifer Johnson told the Statesman on Tuesday that installations have been asked to review their “jurisdictional schemes” to ensure “appropriate coverage of juvenile misconduct.”

Fort Hood, along with numerous other military installations, sits in an area of exclusive federal jurisdiction, meaning prosecutors with the U.S. attorney’s office in Waco are charged with prosecuting juvenile crime on the post. But federal courts are ill-equipped to handle juvenile cases and rarely take them on except for the most serious ones. Federal prosecutors occasionally refer cases to county authorities, but those local prosecutors aren’t required to take the cases.

An internal legal memo obtained by the Statesman detailed 39 incidents of sexual assault committed by juveniles on Fort Hood between 2006 and 2012, with just a “handful” referred for prosecution. It’s unclear how many were actually accepted by county prosecutors.

In 2012, one Army mother expressed frustration over the lack of prosecution against her teenage stepson, who admitted to molesting her son over several years. “Never could we have imagined that a crime like this could be committed against one of our children and the only one being protected would be the perpetrator,” she wrote in a letter to Fort Hood legal officials. “Had I known this was the case I never would have moved on post.”

Issues with juvenile prosecutions go back even further at Fort Hood. In 2005, an Army investigator complained about the lack of action against a 16-year-old boy accused of molesting a 5-year-old girl.

Fort Hood officials said discussions are planned with federal prosecutors and with Bell and Coryell county officials in the near future to “explore a feasible arrangement.”

“In every instance of a reported act of misconduct on Fort Hood, the paramount concern is the safety and security of all personnel on the installation,” officials said in a statement Tuesday. “To this end, Fort Hood officials will consider and utilize every available resource to ensure the safety of Fort Hood and the surrounding community.”

One solution, adopted by such installations as Fort Knox in Kentucky and Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, has been to relinquish jurisdiction over juveniles to local authorities through a process called retrocession. Under such a scenario, county prosecutors, who typically handle juvenile crime, assume jurisdiction instead of federal prosecutors. Army policy calls for commanders to give back any jurisdiction deemed “unnecessary” to state authorities.

Other installations have entered into formal agreements with local prosecutors without taking the added step of retroceding jurisdiction, though legal experts say retrocession is a better option, being less open to legal challenge.

Neither Fort Hood nor Fort Bliss in El Paso have agreements with local prosecutors.

The Army stopped short of calling for standardized agreements between military and local authorities, instead leaving the ultimate decision to individual commanders. “Each installation has unique jurisdictional issues that cannot be appropriately addressed by applying the same approach for each,” Johnson said. “(T)he local installation commander, as advised by the servicing staff judge advocate, is best situated to decide how to address juvenile misconduct, since that commander has the appropriate detailed understanding of any unique issues on the respective installation.”

Fort Hood commander Lt. Gen. Sean MacFarland is currently serving abroad as the head of the coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

A retrocession agreement also would require the approval of state officials, including the governor.

“Sexual assault is a terrible crime that should never go unpunished,” said John Wittman, a spokesman for Gov. Greg Abbott. “Gov. Abbott will consider any proposal that strengthens law enforcement at military bases in Texas.”

U.S. Rep. John Carter, the Round Rock Republican who represents parts of Fort Hood and surrounding Bell County, and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn are also working with military, state and local officials on a solution.

Bell County Judge Jon Burrows said his county would be open to an agreement with Fort Hood on juvenile prosecutions, but said he would look to Fort Hood to pay for any treatment ordered for the on-post juveniles it prosecutes.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Austin pastors among Methodist leaders filing complaint against Attorney General Jeff Sessions
Austin pastors among Methodist leaders filing complaint against Attorney General Jeff Sessions

Hundreds of leaders within the United Methodist Church, including some Austin pastors, filed a formal complaint Monday against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, requesting that church authorities “dig deeply into Mr. Sessions’ advocacy and actions that have led to harm against thousands of vulnerable humans.” Sessions is Methodist...
Class action suit calls out Travis County officials over sex assault investigations
Class action suit calls out Travis County officials over sex assault investigations

A federal class action lawsuit filed Monday slams current and former Travis County and Austin officials, including district attorneys and police chiefs, arguing that they don’t adequately investigate or seek to prosecute suspects in women’s sexual assault cases. The suit names as defendants the city of Austin, Travis County and five individuals...
Cómo ayudar a las familias separadas en la frontera
Cómo ayudar a las familias separadas en la frontera

Varias organizaciones en Texas están buscando firmas, donaciones y voluntarios después de que casi 2 mil menores inmigrantes han sido separados de sus padres en la frontera entre Texas y México como parte de una nueva iniciativa del Departamento de Justicia de Estados Unidos. El 6 de abril, el procurador general Jeff Sessions anunció...
Austin ISD board approves $1.4 billion budget, with employee raises
Austin ISD board approves $1.4 billion budget, with employee raises

The Austin school board Monday night adopted a $1.4 billion budget, which requires dipping into its fund balance by nearly $30 million to cover the district’s shortfall. It is the second consecutive year the district will need to pull from its reserves to cover expenses. The board voted 7 to 1, with Trustee Ted Gordon voting against. Gordon said...
Austin ISD board adopts plan that leaves some schools without nurses
Austin ISD board adopts plan that leaves some schools without nurses

The Austin school board Monday night approved a $7.1 million student health services plan that will continue to leave some campuses without a school nurse and others with a part-time nurse on site. Seton Healthcare Family, which has provided the district’s student medical services for nearly 25 years, will provide 75 nurses and 48 clinical assistants...
More Stories