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Arizona National Guardsmen reportedly harassed, abused homeless

October 16, 2012|By Michael Muskal

Officials are investigating the Arizona National Guard after a series of news reports disclosed that military recruiters engaged in repeated misbehavior, including sexual abuse, firearms violations and shooting homeless people with paint ball guns in "bum hunts."

Gov. Jan Brewer has ordered an investigation after the Arizona Republic  reported on the so-called bum hunts, staged by noncommissioned officers to harass homeless people in north Phoenix. The newspaper reported that 30 to 35 such raids took place involving troops shooting at the homeless with paintball guns.

Based on interviews with officers and citing various investigative records, the newspaper reported a pattern of improprieties over the last decade, including questionable enlistments, forgery, embezzlement and assaults. The problems had not been previously reported, but military investigators  substantiated some of the allegations, concluding that a culture of corruption permeated the recruiting office because of command leadership failures.

Brewer’s office said the governor would seek a National Guard officer from outside the state to head an inquiry.

“She would like the inquiry to begin as quickly as possible so that she is provided credible information with which to judge the conduct of the Arizona National Guard and its leaders,” spokesman Matthew Benson said in a statement.

The Guard said it needed time to look at the newspaper’s findings. “It would be inappropriate to comment until we have digested what is out there,” Sgt. Edward E. Balaban, a spokesman, said by telephone.

According to the newspaper, Sgt. 1st Class Michael Amerson, a former “Recruiter of the Year,” drove new cadets and prospective enlistees through Phoenix in search of homeless people in 2007 and 2008. Amerson wore his uniform and drove a government vehicle marked with recruiting insignia as he and other troops shot paint balls or got the homeless to perform song-and-dance routines for money. Female recruits told investigators that they were ordered to flash their breasts, while homeless women were offered money, food and drink for exposing themselves.

Amerson, who would not talk to the newspaper, was eventually demoted and given an other than honorable discharge.

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