March 19, 2009
[RELATED: Posse Comitatus Act ]
SAMSON, Ala. – 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
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 into the town of 2,000 after the slayings,
and city officials said Soldiers directed traffic. The town is located near
the Florida state line about 35 miles from Fort Rucker, the Army’s main helicopter
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.
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.”