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California and the West

Army Reopens Probe of Disappearance

Military: National Guard has disagreed with claim that missing man is a deserter.

April 10, 1998|H.G. REZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The U.S. Army has reopened its investigation into the disappearance last year of a California National Guard soldier assigned to Germany as part of the U.S. peacekeeping effort in Bosnia, officials said Thursday.

Military sources in Washington said the new probe was ordered after Army officials found that the initial investigation into the disappearance of Spec. Mason Jacques Karl O'Neal was mishandled.

National Guard spokesman Lt. Col. Warren Alberts confirmed that the National Guard was notified Wednesday that the case had been reopened.

An Army officer who is familiar with the case but declined to be identified said the Army's top general in Europe was ordered this week to launch a new probe into the disappearance of O'Neal, 32, of Sunnyvale.

"The bottom line is that this soldier's case didn't go through normal channels at U.S. Army Europe. . . . Mistakes were made that created confusion," he said.

O'Neal's disappearance has provoked a bitter dispute between the two military branches. The Army has branded O'Neal a deserter; the National Guard disagrees.

Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Atherton) also has inquired about O'Neal and has criticized the Army for its handling of the investigation and its treatment of O'Neal's wife and three young children.

O'Neal, assigned to the National Guard's 649th Military Police Company, had been showing signs of mental illness when he ran away July 17, 1997, while being escorted to a base clinic for observation, Army officials said. O'Neal's family has questioned an Army psychiatrist's diagnosis that O'Neal was mentally ill.

Army officials on Thursday acknowledged that the commander of the Army's 95th Military Police Battalion, the next step in O'Neal's chain of command, erred by not ordering an investigation into his disappearance.

But Army officials also insisted that it was O'Neal's company commander, a National Guard captain, who reported O'Neal as absent without leave. By Army regulations, O'Neal was classified a deserter after being absent for 30 days.

National Guard officials charged the Army with twisting the facts.

"Spec. O'Neal was listed as AWOL because his company commander was ordered by his superior, the battalion commander, to report O'Neal as AWOL. Our guy [company commander] wanted to report him as missing under unusual circumstances, but was ordered to report him AWOL instead," said the National Guard's Alberts.

A memo issued on Tuesday by the Department of the Army said O'Neal's case was reopened April 1. But it does not say why a new investigation was launched.

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