Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fort Benning Arsonist Sentenced

/PRNewswire/ -- Officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), United States Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) and Fort Benning announced today the sentencing of a former Army civilian employee responsible for burning down the Fort Benning Staff Judge Advocate (SJA) building on Feb. 6, 2009. The Honorable Clay Land, U.S. District Judge for the Middle District of Georgia sentenced Shawana Topekia Pierce, 31, of Columbus, to 84 months (7 years) in federal prison, plus 3 years of supervised release and ordered her to pay $7.5 million in restitution. There is no parole in the federal system.

"This was an attack on an institution of justice, having a significant community impact," said Special Agent in Charge Gregory Gant of ATF's Atlanta Field Division. "ATF, Army CID, and military police investigators brought to bear every available asset in our collective effort to investigate the fire and solve this crime. This investigation is a textbook example of agencies working together to solve a complex case in very short order."

"Today's sentencing should send a clear message to everyone affiliated with the U.S. Army, in or out or uniform, that if you perpetrate a crime against our Army or its people, or destroy government property, we will track you down and do everything in our power to bring you to justice," said Brigadier General Rodney Johnson, the Commanding General of Army CID. "We were fortunate to have such a tremendous working relationship with the ATF throughout this investigation and we were even more fortunate that none of our first responders or Soldiers were killed during this senseless act."

At the request of the U.S. Army's Criminal Investigation Command, ATF deployed its National Response Team (NRT) and special agents from ATF's Atlanta Field Division joined the investigation to work alongside CID agents and Military Police personnel. By Feb. 11, the team of investigators had officially determined the cause of the fire to be incendiary ("arson"), had secured a federal warrant for Pierce's arrest and took her into custody on the same day. Later that month, a federal grand jury formally charged Pierce for the federal crime of arson for her role in causing the destruction of the Ft. Benning SJA office building.

According to information presented in court and U.S. Attorney's Office officials who prosecuted the case, Pierce pleaded guilty to the charge on July 15, 2009 and admitted to burning down the facility. On February 6, Pierce traveled to Fort Benning and went to the SJA building, where she broke a window, entered the building and poured gasoline in different places. She also placed piles of paper on some desks. Pierce then placed two propane gas bottles inside the building and used a butane lighter to ignite the gasoline-soaked parts of the building, then departed.

The Fort Benning Fire Department, assisted by the Columbus Fire Department, responded to and suppressed the fire. The SJA building was completely destroyed. Two first responders, a fire fighter and a police officer, suffered smoke injuries during the fire and were treated at a hospital.

"The Fort Benning community really came together to reestablish legal services, immediately following the fire, which is a tremendous testimony to the team here," said Col. Tracy Barnes, Staff Judge Advocate. "But we still feel the effects today, since we are now operating out of four locations across post. Fort Benning also suffered an historical loss, since the SJA building was the second oldest building on Fort Benning."

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