The U.S. Army has launched an inquiry into how and why active duty troops from Fort Rucker, Ala., came to be placed on the streets of Samson, Ala., during last week’s murder spree in that tiny South Alabama community. The use of the troops was a possible violation of federal law.
“On March 10, after a report of an apparent mass murder in Samson, Ala., 22 military police soldiers from Fort Rucker, Ala., along with the provost marshal, were sent to the city of Samson,” Harvey Perritt, spokesman for the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) at Fort Monroe, Va., told CNSNews.com on Monday.
“The purpose for sending the military police, the authority for doing so, and what duties they performed is the subject of an ongoing commander’s inquiry–directed by the commanding general of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, Gen. Martin Dempsey.”
TRADOC is the headquarters command for Ft. Rucker.
“In addition to determining the facts, this inquiry will also determine whether law, regulation and policy were followed,” Perritt added. “Until those facts are determined, it would be inappropriate to speculate or comment further.”
Jim Stromenger, a dispatcher at the Samson Police Department, confirmed the MP’s presence in the town, telling CNSNews.com that the troops “came in to help with traffic control and to secure the crime scene”–and the department was glad for the help.
“We’ve been getting a lot of calls,” Stromenger said. “They weren’t here to police, let me make that clear. They were here to help with traffic and to control the crime scene–so people wouldn’t trample all over (it).”
Stromenger said the town needed help–calls had gone out to all police departments in the area.
“We only have a five-man police department,” he told CNSNews.com. “We had officers from all surrounding areas helping out. There were a lot of streets to be blocked off and there had to be someone physically there to block them off. That’s what these MPs were doing. I don’t think they were even armed. The troops helped keep nosy people away.”
But Stromenger said it wasn’t the Samson Police Department that called for the troops.
“I don’t know who called Fort Rucker. But someone did. They wouldn’t have been able to come if someone hadn’t,” he added.
Under Whose Authority?
The troops were apparently not deployed by the request of Alabama Gov. Bob Riley — or by the request of President Obama, as required by law.
When contacted by CNSNews.com, the governor’s office could not confirm that the governor had requested help from the Army, and Gov. Riley’s spokesman, Todd Stacy, expressed surprise when he was told that troops had been sent to the town.
No request from President Obama, meanwhile, was issued by the White House–or the Defense Department.
Wrongful use of federal troops inside U.S. borders is a violation of several federal laws, including one known as the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, Title 18, Section 1385 of the U.S. Code.
“Whoever, except in cases and under circumstances expressly authorized by the Constitution or Act of Congress, willfully uses any part of the Army or the Air Force as a posse comitatus or otherwise to execute the laws shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both,” the law states.
David Rittgers, legal policy analyst at the Cato Institute, said there are other laws barring use of federal troops outside of federal property, as well.
“Title 18, Section 375 of the U.S. Code is a direct restriction on military personnel, and it basically precludes any member of the army in participating in a ‘search, seizure, arrest or other similar activity, unless participation is otherwise authorized by law,’ “ Rittgers told CNSNews.com.
“The security of a crime scene is something I think that would roll up in the category of a ‘search, seizure or other activity,’” Rittgers added.
In addition, there is the Insurrection Act of 1808, as amended in 2007, (Title 10, Section 331 of the U.S. Code) under which the president can authorize troops “to restore order and enforce the laws of the United States” in an insurrection.
“Whenever there is an insurrection in any State against its government, the President may, upon the request of its legislature or of its governor if the legislature cannot be convened, call into federal service such of the militia of the other States, in the number requested by that State, and use such of the armed forces, as he considers necessary to suppress the insurrection,” the law states.
In 2007, Congress expanded the list to include “natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident, or other condition” as situations for which the president can authorize troops, provided that “domestic violence has occurred to such an extent that the constituted authorities of the state or possession are incapable of maintaining public order.”
Congress has been clear that the use of U.S. troops for civilian police purposes is forbidden.
“One of the statutes explicitly says that military brigs can’t even be used to detain domestic criminals,” Rittgers said. “It really is supposed to be a black and white line.”
The U.S. Department of Justice, meanwhile, would have prosecuting authority, if any violation is deemed to have occurred. The Justice Department did not comment for this story.
Ft. Rucker, located in Southern Alabama, is the home of Army Aviation.