Menendez, Booker Join Demand for Answers from FBI for Systemic Failure to Enter Criminal Convictions, Court-Martials into Background Check Database

Menendez, Booker Join Demand for Answers from FBI for Systemic Failure to Enter Criminal Convictions, Court-Martials into Background Check Database

   

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker today joined ten Senators in demanding answers from Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray regarding a dangerous lapse in the incorporation of court-martials or criminal convictions into the FBI’s background check database. Under the current system, even if the Department of Defense (DoD) attempts to notify the FBI of a servicemembers’ criminal conviction, it may not be properly entered into the background check system and may not be accessible to local authorities who rely on the system to keep their communities safe.

“As you know, the recent tragic mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, brought to light a systematic failure by the Department of Defense (DoD) to report all relevant court-martial charges and convictions to the FBI’s background check systems.  We are deeply disturbed to learn that court-martial convictions, even when properly reported by the DoD to the FBI, are not all being incorporated into the FBI’s databases,” the Senators wrote. “We urge you to act immediately, in close coordination with the DoD, to protect the safety of all Americans by ensuring that all information submitted to the FBI is properly and completely incorporated into all relevant background check databases for use by law enforcement agencies and federally licensed firearms dealers.”

In their letter, the Senators highlighted the example of a servicemember who was permitted access to a gun – with tragic consequences – after being sentenced to serve four years in a military prison and another who was approved to serve as a foster parent even after being convicted of running a prostitution ring while serving in the military. In both cases, a court-martial conviction was reported to the FBI, but was not incorporated into the background check database.  

Today’s letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).  

The full text of today’s letter is available here and copied below. 

The Honorable Christopher Wray

Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation

935 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20535

Dear Director Wray,

            We write to express our alarm over recent reports of dangerous lapses in the incorporation of military criminal records into the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) background check databases.[1]  As you know, the recent tragic mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, brought to light a systematic failure by the Department of Defense (DoD) to report all relevant court-martial charges and convictions to the FBI’s background check systems.  We are deeply disturbed to learn that court-martial convictions, even when properly reported by the DoD to the FBI, are not all being incorporated into the FBI’s databases.  We urge you to act immediately, in close coordination with the DoD, to protect the safety of all Americans by ensuring that all information submitted to the FBI is properly and completely incorporated into all relevant background check databases for use by law enforcement agencies and federally licensed firearms dealers.

In 2014, Kyle Juhl, a United States Army veteran, committed suicide with a handgun.[2]  In 2010, Mr. Juhl was convicted in a court martial and sentenced to four years in military prison.  As you know, the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act prohibits individuals convicted of offenses carrying a sentence of more than one year from obtaining firearms.  An Army spokesman said Mr. Juhl’s conviction and fingerprint records were correctly submitted to the FBI in 2010.  However, local police found no record of his court-martial conviction in the FBI background check system.[3]  Even though Mr. Juhl was disqualified from buying a gun, there was nothing in the federal background check system that would have prevented him from doing so. 

Similarly, in 2015, former Army 1st Sgt. Gregory McQueen was convicted by General Court Martial of a number of charges related to his organization of a prostitution ring, sentenced to two years of confinement, and dishonorably discharged.  The Army claims to have submitted Mr. McQueen’s fingerprints to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and his dishonorable discharge to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).  In October 2016, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) queried NCIC when Mr. McQueen applied to be a foster parent, but his records were not in the system.  As a result, although Mr. McQueen had been convicted of charges stemming from the sexual exploitation of others, he was approved by the State of Texas to become a foster parent and did work as a foster parent before this egregious oversight was detected.  This lapse in records reporting could have had dire consequences for some of our nation’s most vulnerable and at-risk children.  In November 2017, the Army learned that Mr. McQueen’s fingerprints were not in NCIC and immediately notified Texas DFPS and resubmitted his fingerprints to NCIC.

Following the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, the U.S. Army Chief of Staff acknowledged significant gaps in reporting Army court martial convictions to federal databases.[4]  The reporting around Mr. Juhl and Mr. McQueen suggests that there may be gaps in the FBI’s incorporation of military criminal records into federal databases even when criminal records are apparently correctly reported by the DoD.  As you know, it is critically important that federal agencies not only effectively share information to ensure that our existing firearms laws keep Americans safe, but that the many systems that protect children in foster care and other settings reflect a complete record of felony and disqualifying convictions.

We request a response to the following questions no later than February 19, 2018.

  1. Did the FBI receive a record from the United States Army regarding Mr. Juhl’s conviction that should have been entered into NICS?  Is/was Mr. Juhl’s court-martial conviction available on NICS and/or any other criminal background check system?
  1. Did the FBI receive a record from the United States Army regarding Mr. McQueen’s conviction and dishonorable discharge that should have been entered into NCIC or NICS?  Is Mr. McQueen’s record available now on NCIC or NICS?
  1. What procedures does the FBI follow to acquire and incorporate court-martial charges or convictions into its federal background check databases?  What changes to procedures, if any, have been made in response to these reported lapses?
  1. Can you verify that the number of submissions by the Department of Defense to NICS—published by the DoD Inspector General[5]—is completely consistent with the FBI’s records? Please provide us with the number of submissions that NICS and other databases have received from the DoD, as well as a comparison to the DoD’s own numbers.  If these numbers are not consistent, please detail what steps you have taken, or will take, to immediately identify and correct any discrepancies.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

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[1] Martha Bellisle, Vet killed self with gun previously seized, sold by police, The Associated Press, January 9, 2018, https://apnews.com/58bd92e2c449481d95135323b9d02670/Vet-killed-self-with-gun-previously-seized,-sold-by-police.

[2] Martha Bellisle, A look at guns sold by police that ended up at crime scenes, Merced Sun-Star, January 8, 2018, http://www.mercedsunstar.com/news/business/article193505739.html.

[3] Vet killed self with gun previously seized, sold by police, supra note 1.

[4] U.S. Army sees 'significant' gaps in reporting criminal activities to law enforcement, Reuters, November 15, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-military/u-s-army-sees-significant-gaps-in-reporting-criminal-activities-to-law-enforcement-idUSKBN1DF2XQ.

[5] Department of Defense Inspector General, Evaluation of Fingerprint Card and Final Disposition Report Submissions by Military Service Law Enforcement Organizations, December 4, 2017, https://media.defense.gov/2017/Dec/05/2001852278/-1/-1/1/DODIG-2018-035.PDF.