Lawyer: Disconnect in military, civilian legal systems allowed church suspect to get guns

A former Navy lawyer says a disconnect between military law, its reporting and how civilian courts interpret them led to the Texas church shooting suspect getting his hands on weapons.

Gunman Devin Kelley was able to legally purchase four weapons despite a record of domestic violence and mental health concerns during his service.

FOX4 obtained records from El Paso police showing that in June 2012, Kelley escaped from a New Mexico mental health facility. 

The report says Kelley, "...suffered from mental disorders..."  and "...was a danger to himself and others." It also said Kelley "...had already been caught sneaking firearms onto Holloman Air Force Base..." and "...was attempting to carry out death threats..."  "...on his military chain of command."

"I guess for me this just underscores how severely the Air Force dropped the ball,” said Brian Bouffard, a former Navy Lt. Commander lawyer who’s now a criminal defense attorney in Fort Worth. 

The Air Force acknowledges it failed to follow policies for alerting federal law enforcement about Kelley's violent past, including a court martial and conviction for beating his wife and her child. Kelley served 12 months in military prison for that crime.

One huge problem, Bouffard said, is the military system is very different than state and federal courts.

"The military system does not use the terms misdemeanor and felony and that's kind of a problem,” Bouffard said.

Even if the Air Force had shared Kelley's criminal information as required, it might not have been as clear cut as public civilian records and might have required more explanation to local law enforcement.

"A civilian member of the community can find out a whole lot about somebody's criminal history. They can't find out everything, but they can find out a lot of information fairly easily. Military?  Much, much, much more difficult,” Bouffard said.

The lawyer believes there should be an overhaul and integration of military criminal records with the civilian system. 

"Let's call them felonies and misdemeanors,” he said. “We can do that and if we do that, that makes reporting and following the law … a lot easier for the civilians to do.”

Inspector generals from the Air Force and the Department of Defense are now reviewing all branches to find out how many other service member's criminal histories may have fallen through the cracks. Bouffard believes that number will be alarming.

Senator John Cornyn said Tuesday he is drafting legislation to ensure all federal agencies upload the required conviction records into the national data base.

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