WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Texas man suspected of killing 12 people in a shooting rampage at the Washington Navy Yard received an honorable discharge from the U.S. Navy Reserve in 2011, even though he exhibited a pattern of misconduct during his career, a Navy official said on Tuesday.
Initial reports indicated the man, Aaron Alexis, a 34-year-old Navy contractor, had received a general discharge from the Reserve, a category that suggests an unsatisfactory record. But the Navy official said Alexis had in fact applied for and received an honorable discharge.
Alexis entered Washington Navy Yard on Monday morning and gained access to the secure Navy Sea Systems Command building, where he went on a shooting spree that spread panic at the base just a mile and a half from the U.S. Capitol. He was armed with an AR-15 military-style assault rifle, a double-barreled shotgun and a handgun, a law enforcement source said.
A military official said that before discharging Alexis honorably, the Navy had been pursuing a general discharge against him on a series of eight to 10 misconduct charges, ranging from traffic offenses to disorderly conduct.
However, when it became evident the case against Alexis would not support a general discharge, he was allowed to apply for an early discharge under what is known as the Early Enlisted Transition Program, which is only used for honorable discharges, the military official said.
Alexis had a spate of run-ins with both civilian and military authorities while he was in the Navy Reserve as full-time support employee. He was arrested in DeKalb County, Georgia, in 2009 on a disorderly conduct charge, and was accused of discharging a firearm by authorities in Fort Worth, Texas.
His misconduct in the Navy Reserve included everything from unauthorized absences from work to insubordination and disorderly conduct, including one involving drunkenness.
He received non-judicial punishment from the military for both the military and civilian misconduct charges, said a Navy official, who did not know the exact punishment.
Conressman: Navy security audit showed flaws
A U.S. congressman, speaking after a mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard, said he understood a year-long investigation of security at the country’s Navy installations had shown serious flaws partly driven by cost-cutting.
Rep. Mike Turner, the chairman of a House Armed Services subcommittee, asked the Defense Department’s inspector general’s office to provide information about the audit of Naval security, which has yet to be published.
“Given the disturbing events (on Monday), I am highly concerned that the access control systems at our nation’s military installations have serious security flaws,” Turner wrote in a letter to Acting Inspector General Lynn Halbrooks.
“It is my understanding the IG report indicates the Navy may have implemented an unproven system in order to cut costs,” the Ohio Republican said.
He said he had learned that “potentially numerous felons may have been able to gain unrestricted access to several military installations across the country due to the insufficient background checks, increasing the risk to our military personnel and civilian employees.”
TIME magazine, which said on Tuesday that it had received information about the audit from a federal official, said it showed that 52 “convicted felons” received routine access to installations and that the Navy “did not effectively mitigate access-control risks associated with contractor installation access.”
The suspect in Monday’s shooting was a Navy contractor from Fort Worth, Texas, who had clearance to enter the closely guarded Washington Navy Yard.
He had been given clearance despite two gun-related brushes with the law and a discharge from the Navy Reserve in 2011 after a series of misconduct issues.
Alexis was recently hired as a civilian information technology contractor to work on the Navy and Marine Corps Intranet and was given a security clearance classified as “secret,” his company’s chief executive told Reuters.
The Department of Defense Inspector General began its audit in September 2012. A Navy official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was not clear how applicable the audit is to the shooting at the Navy Yard on Monday.
“The Navy is reviewing the findings of the DoD inspector general report now,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It is unclear at this time the degree to which the findings apply to the shooting at the Navy Yard yesterday.”