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Fort Hood’s Army investigators lacked experience to handle post’s crimes, oversight panel finds

The main gate at Fort Hood, Texas. (U.S. Army photo/Released)

Investigators assigned to unravel the root cause behind systemic homicidal violence and sexual assaults plaguing Fort Hood told lawmakers Tuesday that the agents assigned to solve crimes on post have for years lacked enough experience and leadership to properly respond.

Christopher Swecker — a lawyer and 24-year veteran of the FBI who last year led the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee that investigated the post in the wake of 20-year-old Spc. Vanessa Guillen’s brutal slaying — testified to lawmakers in the presence of top military leaders Tuesday about his team’s findings.

Swecker on Tuesday said during his team’s investigation he learned that the majority of Fort Hood’s Criminal Investigation Command (CID) was made up of apprentice agents with less than three years of experience who operated without much of any expert oversight.

As a result, the slew of criminal investigations at Fort Hood often went incomplete and paperwork proving that agents questioned potential suspects went undone. In addition, Swecker said it appeared agents took a checklist approach to investigations, failed to use forensics to solve crimes and let expire phone tracking programs used in investigating crimes or searching for missing soldiers.

“I wouldn’t lay the blame on the individual special agents, it’s more the system,” Swecker said, explaining that Fort Hood agents who have any level of experience often leave the Central Texas training post for better advancement opportunities.

“They themselves are victims of a system,” he added, referring to the agents.

Swecker said Fort Hood’s CID was also severely understaffed. He said for about a two year period leading to Guillen’s death that sparked investigations into the post, Fort Hood’s CID was on average about 60% understaffed.

“In essence, we found that it was a training ground,” Swecker said. “There were simply too few journeyman level agents to work the complex sex crimes cases, death cases, while still mentoring the large number of inexperienced and uncredentialled special agents who were constantly transferred in and out.”

Swecker’s statements to lawmakers Tuesday were damning because it could explain why it took Army leaders months to use forensics testing to find blood residue covering the arms room where Guillen was last seen.

Authorities now believe Spc. Aaron David Robinson killed Guillen with a hammer in that post armory on April 22. He remained working on post until July 1 when local police say he took his own life as they tried to detain him for questioning after the young soldier’s dismembered remains were found near the Leon River in Bell County.

However, Killeen police say they do not need to release body camera footage to the public, citing laws that allow video to be withheld if a suspect dies and therefore cannot be convicted of a crime.

Swecker’s testimony about lack of experienced Fort Hood CID agents would also explain why it took so long to track Guillen’s phone and find text messages that placed Robinson with Guillen just seconds before she was last seen on post.

Maj. Gen. Donna Martin, commanding general of the U.S Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, was also called to testify to lawmakers on Tuesday.

Martin on Tuesday said the U.S. Army last year accepted the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee’s findings in full and that she was actively working to modernize the program and address its shortcomings.

Martin said those actions included a female mentorship program, another program to train soldiers to help recognize and prevent sexual assaults and several other improvements to support crime prevention and enhance communication between military and local law enforcement.

“We can and we will do better,” Martin said Tuesday. “Since the report was released, Fort Hood has taken immediate actions on several of Fort Hood Independent Review Committee’s recommendations.

“I do not take this report lightly,” she continued. “Reforming CID is my top priority. I acknowledge the necessity of the task ahead.”

However, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Cali, said she was disappointed with Martin’s approach so far in responding to the findings of the Fort Hood investigation.

“I must tell you, I’m truly disappointed that is the extent of what you have gleaned from the report,” Speier said, contradicting Martin’s statements that Fort Hood’s CID and Killeen police work together to solve violent crimes.

Speier said Killeen police during the time of the Fort Hood investigation last summer requested to work better together to solve crimes, but received no response from Fort Hood CID.

At the start of the Guillen investigation, American-Statesman reporters were repeatedly told by Fort Hood’s CID and Killeen police that the opposite agency was investigating her disappearance.

Guillen’s mother and sisters also expressed similar frustrations with the lack of communication among military and civilian authorities at and around the Central Texas post.

“I’m happy to report that that is being addressed currently,” Martin said about the lack of collaboration.

Army leaders on Tuesday also answered questions from lawmakers about how Fort Hood was now handling cases involving sex crimes.

Lawmakers on Tuesday asked Martin how many backlogged cases of sexual assault had yet to be properly investigated at Fort Hood, but Martin said she did not have that data on hand.

“Women who I have been hearing from feel like inaction is is a signal, it’s a signal that their leadership doesn’t care,” said Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas Tuesday.”

Investigators with the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee on Tuesday said Fort Hood Sexual Assault and Harassments Program (SHARP) leaders told them that three out of four female soldiers between the ages of 18 to 32 are sexually assaulted or harassed within 8 months of being stationed on post.

“It was almost an initiation to be sexually assaulted or sexually harassed,” said Mary Counts, former FBI supervisory special agent who also investigated Fort Hood. “That was unbelievable to me. One, that this was happening, but two that this was known to people in the program that are supposed to prevent this kind of behavior.”

Investigators said it appeared the SHARP program not only failed to protect soldiers last summer when the investigation first began, but also neglected their duties dating back as far as 2013.

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