Vanessa Guillen murder: Army to put civilian in charge of criminal investigations as part of plan to address Fort Hood failures

FORT HOOD, Texas — The Army is tasking a civilian with its criminal investigations, adding staff and freeing up more officers to work the cases, as part of a plan to address widespread failures that have surfaced the last year after a series of murders and other crimes. at Fort Hood, TX.

Army officials announced the plan Thursday, but provided few details on how much the reorganization will cost or how long it will take, other than to say some changes will roll out over the months. The changes are intended to address complaints that Army investigators are overwhelmed and inexperienced.

The plan reflects recommendations made by an independent review panel following the violence at Fort Hood, including the death of Vanessa Guillén, whose remains were found approximately two months after her assassination.

SEE ALSO: Army under fire from Congress over Fort Hood response

A key change will separate the Army Criminal Investigation Command, or CID, from the Office of the Provost General, and instead of being headed by a general officer, it will be overseen by a civilian director who has yet to be named. . The intent is to improve command capabilities and respond to the findings of the Fort Hood commission.

“We are very confident that these organizational changes respond to the committee’s CID recommendations and move us into the future,” Acting Army Secretary John Whitley said in a prepared statement.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, CID Commander Major General Donna Martin said three of the Army’s largest bases – Fort Hood, Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Carson in Colorado – will be the first to see some of the staffing improvements and changes. Some of them aim to free up officers from other duties so they can focus on criminal cases.

She said this includes adding more support staff, appointing a new officer in charge of logistical and administrative duties, and having military police take care of the protection and escort details that CID agents are currently doing. She declined to provide a cost estimate, but said funding would be provided over the next five years.

The decision comes amid increased attention at the Pentagon on ways to deal with sexual assault and other disciplinary issues in the military. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s first directive after taking office in January ordered top leaders to review their sexual assault prevention programs, and he later set up a panel to study the issue.

SEE ALSO: Army investigation finds slain soldier’s supervisor Vanessa Guillen sexually harassed her

The Fort Hood Independent Review Board, however, was created last year by former Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy.

More than two dozen Fort Hood soldiers have died in 2020, including multiple homicides and suicides. Guillén’s death and other cases prompted the Independent Review, which found military leaders were failing to adequately address high rates of sexual assault, harassment, drug use and other issues at the base. The review board, which released its findings in December, also concluded that the Army CID was understaffed, poorly organized and had too few experienced investigators.

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

Christopher Swecker, chair of the review board, said the officers were “victims of the system”, which he said failed to train them and often burdened them with administrative tasks. And he said base leadership focused on military readiness and “completely and utterly neglected” the sexual assault prevention program. As a result, he said, lower-level unit commanders did not encourage service members to report assaults and, in many cases, shamed the victims or were in fact the perpetrators themselves.

Since then, Army leaders have taken disciplinary action against 21 officers and NCOs at Fort Hood in connection with Guillén’s disappearance and death. Among these were senior base commanders as well as an officer from the CID battalion.

SEE ALSO: Vanessa Guillen: The Timeline Offers Insight into the Tragedy and Legacy of Ft. Hood Soldier

The Army report also blamed the Army for allowing Guillén’s killer, SPC. Aaron Robinson, only to escape from custody and ultimately kill himself while being chased.

Martin said Thursday she was unsure whether any of the new changes would have affected the outcome of the Guillen case.

At the March congressional hearing, lawmakers grilled Martin, who told them she was “seizing this moment” to fix staffing and resource issues within her agency that have led to sweeping failures in follow-up and resolution of cases. Martin leaves work, in a routine rotation.

The change in the Army mirrors a similar change in the Navy in 1992, following the Tailhook scandal, when Navy and Navy officers sexually assaulted dozens of women at a Las Vegas hotel. Following the sweeping condemnation of the Navy’s investigation of the case, the leadership transformed the Army-run Naval Investigative Service into the Navy’s Criminal Investigative Service and appointed a civilian director.

The video above is taken from a previous story.

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Mark M. Gagnon