Officials: Army to put civilian in charge of criminal probes

Politics
Gloria Guillen, Lupe Guillen, Natalie Khawam

FILE – In this July 30, 2020, file photo slain Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen’s mother Gloria Guillen, right, joined by Vanessa’s sister Lupe Guillen, center, and family attorney Natalie Khawam, speaks as she cries during a news conference on the National Mall in front of Capitol Hill in Washington. The Army said Friday, April 30, 2021, that it has taken disciplinary action against 21 officers and non-commissioned officers at Fort Hood, Texas, in connection with death last year of Spc. Vanessa Guillen, who was missing for about two months before her remains were found. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Army plans to put a civilian in charge of the command that conducts criminal investigations, a response to widespread criticism the unit is understaffed, overwhelmed and filled with inexperienced investigators, officials familiar with the decision told The Associated Press.

The decision, expected to be announced Thursday, reflects recommendations made by an independent commission in the wake of violent crimes and murders at Fort Hood, Texas, including the death of Vanessa Guillén, whose remains were found about two months after she was killed.

According to officials, the Army Criminal Investigation Command, or CID, will be separated from the Provost Marshall General’s office, and instead of being run by a general officer it will be overseen by a yet-to-be-named civilian director. The move is designed to improve the capabilities of the command and address the findings of the Fort Hood commission.

The CID will be responsible for criminal investigations, and the Provost Marshal office will continue with separate duties.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the decision before it was made public, said immediate changes would be implemented at three Army installations considered high-risk to increase qualified staffing and help improve relationships with local law enforcement. It’s unclear which installations will be affected.

Longer-term changes would address how to improve the criminal investigations to better deter crime.

The decision comes amid heightened attention within the Pentagon on ways to address sexual assaults and other discipline problems in the military. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s first directive after he took office in January ordered senior leaders to look into their sexual assault prevention programs, and he later created a panel to study the matter.

The Fort Hood independent review panel, however, was created last year by former Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy.

More than two dozen Fort Hood soldiers died in 2020, including in multiple homicides and suicides. Guillén’s death and other cases prompted the independent review, which found that military leaders were not adequately dealing with high rates of sexual assault, harassment, drug use and other problems at the base. The review panel, which released its findings last December, also concluded that the Army CID was understaffed, badly organized and had too few experienced investigators.

Members of the panel told Congress members in March that the CID investigators lacked the acumen to identify key leads and “connect the dots.”

Christopher Swecker, chairman of the review panel, said the agents were “victims of the system,” which he said failed to train them and often had them doing administrative tasks. And he said the base leadership was focused on military readiness, and “completely and utterly neglected” the sexual assault prevention program. As a result, he said, lower-level unit commanders didn’t encourage service members to report assaults, and in many cases were shaming victims or were actually the perpetrators themselves.

Since then, Army leaders have taken disciplinary action against 21 officers and non-commissioned officers at Fort Hood in connection with Guillén’s disappearance and death. Among those were senior base leaders as well as CID agents.

During the March Congressional hearing, lawmakers grilled the CID commander, who told them that she is “seizing this moment” to correct the staffing and resource problems within her agency that led to sweeping failures in tracking and solving cases.

“We can and we will do better,” Maj. Gen. Donna Martin told the House Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel at the time. She said the Army was working to restructure and modernize the CID, and was considering adding more civilian investigators and creating special teams that could respond to major criminal cases when needed at any base. Martin is leaving the job, in a routine rotation.

The change by the Army mirrors a similar shift by the Navy in 1992, in the aftermath of the Tailhook scandal, when Navy and Marine officers sexually assaulted dozens of women at a hotel in Las Vegas. As a result of sweeping condemnation of the Navy’s investigation into the matter, leaders transformed the military-led Naval Investigative Service into the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and appointed a civilian director.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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