Control of Carson GIs freed on bond questioned
Colorado Springs, Colo. — The promises by Fort Carson commanders were simple: Release a soldier on bond, and he will be monitored and kept on post.
But two recent cases raise questions about the supervision of soldiers released from jail on the condition they be held on post — leading one judge to decry lax oversight after a recently freed soldier was convicted of attempting to rape a woman in a Colorado Springs grocery store restroom.
In the other case, the disappearance of a man accused of killing his 2-month-old daughter went unreported to the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office for up to 40 days, prosecutors say.
“We weren’t made aware of it until we were preparing for trial, and we found out about it by accident,” said Gail Warkentin, the lead prosecutor of the AWOL defendant, Pfc. Roderick Elam Jr.
The practice of advocating for soldiers’ pre-trial release isn’t part of official Fort Carson policy, commanders said.
Instead, whether to vouch for a soldier accused of serious crimes is a decision left to commanders — and Fort Carson does nothing to monitor arrangements made by officers within a soldier’s unit.
To Fort Carson Capt. Trent Powell, an Army attorney, releasing soldiers to their commanders brings more scrutiny and protection compared to civilians set free on their recognizance. Soldiers who break their restrictions can face courts-martial for disobeying orders.
“That’s a risk you take,” Powell said. “And of course, I think that’s a risk taken in the civilian world as well when someone has posted bond.”
To Warkentin, recent problems suggest a “break” in communication among judges, prosecutors and the post.
“We have always believed there was some authority at Fort Carson who would ensure they weren’t permitted to leave,” Warkentin said. “Maybe that was an assumption that wasn’t justified.”
Asked if judges in El Paso County were making bond decisions under the same assumption, Warkentin said: “It wouldn’t surprise me.”
In both cases, court records show, judges approved bond based on assurances from Fort Carson commanders.
Last week, 4th Judicial District Judge Thomas L. Kennedy — who ruled Reginald Young be released only to a “military representative” and that he comply with “restrictions from the military” — pledged never again to be swayed by such promises from Carson commanders.
Ordered to remain on post as a condition of his release from El Paso County jail on charges of vehicle theft and escape, then-Spc. Young in December flouted those conditions — sneaking into a women’s restroom at a Colorado Springs grocery store and trying to rape the first woman who entered.
The attack occurred one day after a sergeant appeared in Kennedy’s courtroom vouching for the soldier, court records show.
Kennedy, who angrily said he felt “partially responsible” for the attack, sentenced Young to 16 years in prison. The woman said in court she pushed Young away and ran out of the bathroom.
In the Elam case, Judge Ronald G. Crowder reduced his bond from $250,000 to $75,000 in February and imposed the additional requirements that he be confined to post and not be deployed.
Prosecutors filed a new warrant for Elam’s arrest in July upon discovering that he had been AWOL for up to 40 days. Elam was arrested trying to enter the post.
In interviews last week, Fort Carson officials did not specify how the men were monitored on post.
The Colorado Judicial Branch, which oversees the felony courts in El Paso County, couldn’t provide figures showing the frequency of the practice of releasing soldiers to commanders, spokesman Rob McCallum said. For starters, the courts do not track bond releases by someone’s occupation, he said.
Attorneys who practice in El Paso County courtrooms downplayed the frequency of the requests — but several recalled appearances by Fort Carson supervisors.
“They tell the judge, ‘If you let him out, he’ll be confined to post and we’ll be watching him’,” said Andrew Bryant, a former prosecutor in private practice in Colorado Springs.
Bryant said judges grant such requests “from time to time,” but that he wasn’t aware of serious crimes committed while soldiers were on confinement to the post. Seven other attorneys approached by The Gazette on Friday also said they were unaware of other cases sucj as those of Young and Elam.
How soldiers are released to commanders and what restrictions they face when released remains a murky subject.
The promises exchanged at the El Paso County courthouse are largely left to the discretion of commanders.
Their restrictions vary, Powell said.
Soldiers can be ordered to remain in a brigade’s complex or in the barracks, often with conditions that the soldier checks in with supervisors every few hours, Powell said.
Other more restrictive measures include orders for people to check in every few hours on the soldier who has bonded out of jail. Troops can also be ordered to “shadow” the soldier under restriction, Powell said.
In some cases, commanders can also order a soldier to be confined in the El Paso County jail. A magistrate reviews every such instance involving the jail to determine whether the order is appropriate.
All other on-post restrictions — such as the cases involving Young and Elam — go unchecked, save for a legal review by post lawyers to ensure no laws have been broken.
Powell said commanders do everything in their power but are restricted by laws that protect the rights of soldiers.
“There’s the old adage that you can’t chain someone to a radiator — that’s in effect confining them,” Powell said. “So you couldn’t put a soldier in his barracks room and lock the door. That’s essentially like you’re confining someone just like they’re being thrown in prison at the (jail).”