Update November 5th: Daniel Clemons cops a plea; updated post HERE.
An increasingly beleaguered United States Air Force got another public relations black eye today when the Salt Lake Tribune, the Deseret News, and KSL Channel 5 revealed that Hill Air Force Base officials knew that accused Club Manhattan shooter Daniel Eugene Clemons had been arrested while on leave during Thanksgiving 2007 for allegedly forcing his way into a home in New Jersey and shooting a man in his bed, but declined to restrict him to the base or to quarters.
On November 22nd, 2007, Clemons was allegedly one of three assailants who forced their way into the Trenton, New Jersey home of a 23-year-old man, shooting the victim as he lay in bed with his girlfriend. The following day, Clemons was arrested and charged with attempted murder. Police did not disclose a motive for the alleged attack. However, New Jersey prosecutors had released Clemons on $150,000 bail, primarily because of his military service. They were confident that the Air Force could exercise proper control over his movements. More information on the New Jersey crime published November 23rd, 2007 by NJ.com.
They guessed wrong. And the base's explanation? "He was not restricted to quarters because he was cooperating with authorities and was seen fit for release, pending trial by the New Jersey court," said Hill spokeswoman Beth Woodward. Clemons is being prepped for discharge from the Air Force, with a hearing scheduled for August.
Twenty-two year old Tyler Jake Lee, currently in hospital, wishes that August had come a lot earlier. According to the Deseret News and a previous KSL report, on Saturday July 26th, Clemons got into an argument with Lee, after which he pulled out a non-military assault rifle and shot Lee in the abdomen at 1:44 A.M. outside of Club Manhattan at 5 East 400 South. Clemons was arrested on suspicion of attempted murder, aggravated robbery and obstruction of justice. Also arrested were AB Jeremy David Crist, 20; A1C Tacota Monay Lemuel, 19; and A1C Destinee Williams, 22. Crist serves with the 729th Air Control Squadron; Lemuel and Williams are members of the 388th.
The four suspects drove from the scene onto I-15 shortly after the shooting. Clemons later was dropped off to flee on foot. He was found in a gravel yard where police say he was waiting to be picked up by Lemuel and Williams. Crist was booked in the Salt Lake County Jail on suspicion of aggravated assault, discharge of a firearm from a vehicle, fleeing and obstruction of justice. Lemuel and Williams are being investigated for obstruction of justice. Jurisdiction for the case has not yet been determined.
So why are people like Daniel Clemons not discharged more promptly? With manpower stretched precariously thin between two wars, military leaders are sometimes hesitant to dismiss service members, even those with troubling pasts. And as in the Clemons case, court martial proceedings can be staved off for months or even years as military leaders await the results of lengthy civilian criminal trials.
Meanwhile, accused service members continue to serve in uniform and to pull U.S. government paychecks. Clemons, for instance, worked in an administrative position, a nondeployable role for the aircrew flight equipment apprentice in Hill's 388th Operations Support Squadron.
In doing so, they're up against some significant challenges. Military recruiters increasingly are taking chances with troubled recruits. Last year, more than one in 10 Army recruits received a waiver for prior criminal behavior that otherwise would have disqualified the recruit for service. So called "waiver recruits" have slightly higher rates of misconduct, courts martial and desertion, according to the Army Recruiting Command. But it hans't been revealed whether or not Clemons received a waiver before he enlisted.
It was the second shooting in four months at the downtown Salt Lake City nightclub. Hill AFB officials confirmed on Sunday that they are cooperating with police in investigating reports that a March 22nd attack outside the club, in which a man was shot in the head, also involved base personnel. But police have not named a suspect in that case.
Commentary: It was absolutely inexcusable for Clemons' chain of command not to restrict Clemons to base. The guy's been accused of aggravated assault in New Jersey, for heaven's sake, and he allegedly used a firearm. This implies some personal anger issues. By refusing to restrict Clemons to the base, the command jeopardized the safety of the local community.
And this can't be dismissed as a fluke. The U.S. Air Force has been overtaken by a culture of carelessness. Look at the track record of high profile incidents during the past two years. First, there was the accidental loading of live nuclear weapons aboard a bomber bound for Barksdale Air Force Base, LA. Then we learned that in 2006, there was the accidental shipment of nuclear weapons detonators to Taiwan. Then the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot AFB, ND flunked a major defense nuclear surety inspection. Then Colonel Samuel Lofton was convicted in a general court-martial at Sheppard AFB, TX on a host of sexual and corruption-based charges. And recently, an Air Force missile launch crew was caught sleeping at their posts.
We can't afford this type of carelessness within the agency to whom we entrust the care and employment of nuclear weapons. It's time for the Air Force to "aim high" once again.