published Friday, October 25th, 2013

Tennessee National Guard recruiter held in superiors' shooting

Tennessee National Guard officials walk away from a helicopter that carried them to a field across from a National Guard armory where two Guard members were shot on on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013 in Millington, Tenn.
Tennessee National Guard officials walk away from a helicopter that carried them to a field across from a National Guard armory where two Guard members were shot on on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013 in Millington, Tenn.
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

MEMPHIS — A Tennessee National Guard recruiter was charged in federal court on Friday, accused of shooting three of his superiors at an armory after he was told he would be relieved of duty and dismissed from active service.

U.S. District Magistrate Judge Diane Vescovo told Amos Patton he is charged with committing assaults within the maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States and carrying a weapon during a federal crime of violence.

The 42-year-old sergeant first class was ordered to the armory north of Memphis Thursday, where he was told that he was being relieved of duty, reduced in rank and recommended for removal from active reserve, U.S. Attorney Edward Stanton III said at a Friday news conference.

Following the meeting, Patton was ordered to return government equipment that was in his vehicle outside the building, located in Millington, the complaint said. Patton had a "fanny pack" with him when he returned. When Patton tried to access the pack, one Guardsman yelled "gun," the complaint says. Patton then opened fire, hitting three Guardsmen, wrote FBI Special Agent Matthew Ross.

The complaint does not detail the nature of the misconduct and it was unclear how long Patton, of the Memphis suburb of Cordova, had been in the Guard.

The complaint says Patton then ran from the building before another Guardsman caught up with him, subdued him and held him until Millington police arrived. The handgun was recovered at the scene.

Everything took "no more than just a minute or so," said FBI Special Agent Todd McCall.

Officials on Thursday identified two of the three victims as Tennessee National Guardsmen Maj. William J. Crawford and Sgt. Maj. Ricky R. McKenzie. Both were recruiters who were Patton's superiors. One was shot in the lower leg and the other in the foot.

On Friday, the Guard identified the third victim as Lt. Col. Hunter Belcher, also above Patton in the chain of command. He was grazed by a bullet just below the right knee. Another round went through a backpack Belcher was wearing, but did not injure him. All three men were treated and released.

In court on Friday, the judge scheduled a probable cause and detention hearing for Wednesday. Patton told the judge that he could not afford his own lawyer, and Vescovo granted his request to appoint a public defender.

Patton, who wore an orange jumpsuit and was shackled at the hands and feet, is being held without bond. If convicted, he could serve up to 20 years in prison on the assault charge and a minimum of 10 years on the firearms charge.

Patton's wife, Brenda, declined comment outside the courtroom Friday.

Maj. Gen. Max Haston, adjutant general of the Tennessee Guard, said the two wounded recruiters were veterans who had served overseas. Asked Thursday about the discipline the gunman had faced before the shooting, Haston would say only that there were "administrative policies and procedures that we were going through with him."

Haston said security protocols were followed closely and he was proud that the shooter was quickly subdued by other soldiers.

"It makes me proud, but it also scares me to death that something like this can happen," Haston said Thursday.

Millington Police Chief Rita Stanback said the shooter did not have the handgun in his possession by the time officers arrived.

The armory, which houses a recruitment office, sits across the street from Naval Support Activity Mid-South on land that used to be part of a larger military installation. Navy officials ordered a lockdown there during the tense minutes after the midafternoon shooting, lifting it after word came that the gunman was in custody.

The base is home to human resources operations and serves as headquarters to the Navy Personnel Command, Navy Recruiting Command, the Navy Manpower Analysis Center and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Finance Center.

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