The decision to send armed military policemen from Fort Rucker in response to the mass murders in Samson on March 10 was a violation of federal law, an Army investigation concluded.
According to records released to the Dothan Eagle on Monday, in response to a Freedom of Information request, the Department of Army Inspector General found that the armed troops in Samson violated the Posse Comitatus Act, which restrains the use of the military for civilian law enforcement purposes.
“... The historic tradition of limiting direct military involvement in civilian law enforcement activities, and the requirement of applicable law, do not appear to have been analyzed or considered. The intent was to be a good Army neighbor and help civilian law authorities facing a difficult, unique tragedy affecting the local community,” stated the Inspector General report, dated Aug. 10.
All names involved in the incident were redacted from the report.
The Inspector General report listed several recommendations in response to the violation, including: (1) Making a record of the allegation (2) Informing the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army of the finding and (3) Refer the report to the Office of the Judge Advocate General. The report did not state if anyone was disciplined.
According to the report, the troops responded to the situation in Samson based on a request from the Geneva County Sheriff’s Department and Samson Police Department. The report went on to say that although the troops were only on hand to support current law enforcement by manning traffic control points, the actions violated several “tests” used to determine whether a violation occurred.
“The first test was whether the actions of military personnel were active or passive ... the participating MPs did not view manning TCPs (traffic control points) as a law enforcement activity. The evidence indicated otherwise. By directing and diverting traffic and people, and by their uniformed and armed presence in the streets at TCPs, the MPs actively participated in law enforcement activities.”
The report also stated the actions constituted a violation because the MPs were not accompanied by civilian law enforcement at at least one of the traffic control points. Finally, the stated actions were a violation because the MPs “regulated the freedom of movement of civilian persons which served to prohibit those persons from going to where they might desire to go.”
The report states the officer who made the decision to send the MPs to Samson took full responsibility for his actions. He said he believed he had the authority based on his previous experience with military responses to Hurricanes Katrina and Andrew. However, the report stated the appropriate person to make the decision in this instance was the Secretary of Defense.
The incident that prompted the response occurred on the afternoon of March 10 when Michael McLendon drove into Samson and killed several residents downtown. McLendon eventually moved on to Geneva, where he killed himself at a local business. He killed 11 people, including himself.