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Central Texas Local News | kcentv.com

Fort Hood committee testifies on Capitol Hill about findings of review done after Vanessa Guillen's death

The hearing comes one day after the Army announced the firings or suspension of 14 Fort Hood leaders.

WASHINGTON D.C., DC — The five members of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee testified Wednesday in front of a House subcommittee.

The panel, created in the wake of Pfc. Vanessa Guillen's death, made 70 recommendations to change the command climate and culture on Fort Hood.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy addressed the findings Wednesday. He announced 14 Fort Hood leaders were relieved of duty or suspended. The list included Maj. Gen. Scott Efflandt, who was the Deputy Commanding General on post when Guillen was killed.

The Subcommittee on Military Personnel, chaired by California Rep. Jackie Speier (D), heard testimony from all five members of the review committee.

Speier was the primary sponsor of the I Am Vanessa Guillen bill which would allow soldiers to report sexual assault or harassment outside of their chain of command.

"This report is a damning indictment of Fort Hood and it's leadership," Speier said in her opening remarks.

Guillen's family and supporters pushed for the bill in light of Guillen's claim that she was sexually harassed but did not report it to her superiors for fear of retaliation.

The review committee found what it called “a deficient climate at Fort Hood, including ineffective implementation of the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program."

Committee member Queta Rodriguez said Tuesday they conducted 647 individual interviews and of those 503 were women.

Rodriguez said they received 93 credible accounts of sexual assault, only 59 of which were reported. She said they received 217 credible accounts of sexual harassment.

"The Report of the Fort Hood Independent Review Committee confirms what I saw with my own eyes,'' Speier said. "The once “Great Place” transformed into the “Place where careers go to die.”

The I Am Vanessa Guillen bill was not specifically addressed but El Paso Rep. Veronica Escobar asked what congress could do legislatively to deal with the problems.

Rodriguez said the changes needed to come from the top down on post and that legislation was not the solution.

Committee Chair Chris Swecker told the committee the members of the Fort Hood Criminal Investigation Division was inexperienced with only three or four having more than three years of experience.

The case of Sgt. Elder Fernandes was mentioned as an example of the inexperience within CID. Fernandes disappeared Aug. 17. His body was found hanging from a tree Aug. 25 in Temple.

Fernandes, who was from Massachusetts, was part of a sexual abuse investigation. He reported someone grabbed his buttocks according to CID.

CID said their investigation found the claim to be unsubstantiated but during the hearing it was revealed the case was closed based only on a polygraph test of the accused.

The committee members agreed a polygraph should never be used as the sole reason to dismiss a case. Swecker said a more experienced investigator would know to keep an investigation open even if the accused passes a polygraph.

"It's not the fault of the CID agents on the ground it was just being used as a training ground," Swecker said.

In response to a question about how the Army received their recommendations, Committee member Jack White said McCarthy and all the top leadership of the Army adopted all of them.

"Each of the areas, the Army has humbly demonstrated openness to accepting what we've seen and implementing specific protocols," said White.

Guillen was killed April 22 on post by Spc. Aaron Robinson, according to a criminal complaint. Her remains were not found until June 30 near the Leon River in Bell County.

The complaint said Robinson killed Guillen in an armory room on post then, with the help of his girlfriend Cecily Aguilar, dismembered her body and buried the remains.

Robinson shot and killed himself July 1 as Killeen police were approaching him.

Aguilar was charged with conspiracy to tamper with evidence. Her trial was set for Jan. 19 in a federal court in McClennan County.