The Fort Campbell soldier who committed suicide outside the post's courthouse in July 2015 had been found guilty of several charges of sexual abuse of a child.
The incident, which occurred between the soldier's verdict and sentencing hearings, prompted several changes to the policies for escorting accused soldiers and for those found guilty, according to the Army's internal investigation obtained by The (Clarksville, Tenn.) Leaf-Chronicle through a Freedom of Information Act request.
At about 1 p.m. on July 30, 2015, a court-martial at the Kentucky post found Master Sgt. Timothy Shelton, of West Virginia, guilty of several charges of sexual abuse of a child. Shelton's sentencing hearing was expected to begin after a lunch break at 2 p.m. During this time, Shelton was escorted to his attorney's office and then to a separate room to speak with his family, according to the investigation.
The officer in charge, whose name was redacted from the document, "determined that it was not appropriate to shackle MSG Shelton during these meetings with his attorneys and family," the document stated.
This decision was found to be in accordance with Fort Campbell's escort policy.
"This decision is not inconsistent with the Fort Campbell escort policy, which states that hand and leg restraints may be removed 'at the request of legal counsel' so long as security is maintained," according to the investigation.
Shelton then asked whether he could go outside to his vehicle to retrieve his ACUs, which is the required uniform for the confinement facility, the documents stated. The request was approved and Shelton was escorted to his car in the adjacent parking lot and back to the courthouse without incident.
Things took a dark turn, though, once Shelton asked to go to his car a second time. At about 1:30 p.m., Shelton asked if he could return to his car to retrieve prescription medication he left in his truck.
As they escorted Shelton to his truck, one of the escorts received a phone call from their commanding officer and remained near the front door while the other escort followed Shelton. While going through a box in the back of the truck, Shelton retrieved his revolver where he then used it on himself, according to the investigation. No one else was injured. Military police quickly secured the scene and initiated the investigation.
The incident prompted a Facebook post from the public affairs office which mentioned the shooting outside the courthouse on the military installation. It stated no one else was injured and an investigation was underway.
The investigative report made several recommendations:
"The 101st Airborne Division should review and update the division's escort policy to encapsulate the lessons learned from this tragic incident. I recommend that the PMO (Provost Marshal's Office) and the OSJA (Office of Staff Judge Advocate) staff the escort policy to ensure that all participants in future courts-martial are secure and that the policy is fully consistent with legal precedent. All Soldiers assigned as escorts for Soldiers that have been accused of committing a crime should be senior in rank to the accused Soldier. Also, escort details should not be assigned to the same unit the accused Soldier is, to avoid complacency. The policy should clarify when a Soldier needs to be restrained, the rank and duties of the escort team, the accused's ability to leave the courthouse and the accused 's ability to access his vehicle during the court-martial."
"The 101st OSJA should establish a standardized escort briefing procedure that will fully implement the updated escort policy. The 101st OSJA should be required to brief all escorts verbally and in writing on their duties and responsibilities. Each escort should be required to sign the counseling to indicate that they understand their duties."
According to the investigation's documents, however, only a few ended up receiving approval. The policy at Fort Campbell was updated to clarify restraining procedures and when a soldier must be restrained. Escorts were also to be briefed of the procedures using the Shelton incident as an example, according to the investigation.
The updated policy created specific training and a standardized briefing for escorts at Fort Campbell, according to a statement from the post.
"A new policy is being implemented on Fort Campbell that puts into place updated training and handling procedures for escorting prisoners or accused soldiers," according to the statement from Fort Campbell. "Among a series of new requirements, the policy now mandates specific training and a standardized briefing for all soldiers serving as escorts.
"Additionally, the policy provides mandatory rank, gender, and unit assignments of the escort team, orders a pat down search of the accused, clarifies when an accused soldier needs to be restrained and by what methods, and directs that escorts keep the accused within their immediate control at all times."
The investigation found that while not a "major factor," Shelton's chain of command and his escorts were "complacent in dealing with MSG Shelton throughout the court proceedings." The complacency didn't "cause MSG Shelton to commit suicide but provided MSG Shelton with the opportunity."
"This lack of positive control gave MSG Shelton an opportunity to hide his loaded gun in his vehicle during the court-martial proceedings and to access his vehicle once he was convicted," the documents stated.
Shelton was a member of the 563rd Aviation Support Battalion, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, which was undergoing deactivation at the time. As a result, the unit "lacked the qualified personnel senior in rank" to Shelton. There were only about 30 people in the unit at that point.
A first lieutenant, a sergeant first class and a sergeant were assigned to Shelton's escort detail.
His escorts also were not "properly briefed" on escort standards, "especially the escort standards for soldiers who have been convicted but who have not yet been sentenced," the investigation found.
"The escorts should have been on high alert due to MSG Shelton's conviction of such serious charges," the investigating officer wrote.
Prior to Shelton's final days, he had been diagnosed with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder and suffered from nightmares, according to the investigation.
Shelton lost a "best friend" to a Black Hawk helicopter crash in 2003 that left "deep marks" on him, the investigation found. Because of his expertise with Black Hawk helicopters, Shelton was later assigned as a lead investigator in other crashes, such as one in 2007, and this created "constant nightmares" for Shelton.
"MSG Shelton claimed that seeing this footage reminded him of his best friend's crash and that the images continuously haunted him," according to the investigation.
Shelton sought mental health care and received it various times in the year leading up to the verdict. An indication of suicide was never given, according to the investigation.
The investigating officer in Shelton's case was unable to review the unit's suicide prevention and awareness program since the unit deactivated.
However, the investigating officer did find the unit "had a positive climate and the soldiers did not fear repercussion if they ever had to seek help or talk to someone."
Shelton entered the Army in 1990 and served two deployments to Iraq and one to Afghanistan between 2004 and 2014. According to his obituary, Shelton was recognized for "outstanding service to the U.S. Army" as a member of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, "Nightstalkers."
Military suicides in 2015 dipped slightly from 2014, according to data from the Defense Department. DoD's first-quarter 2016 suicide report showed 266 active-duty service members committed suicide in 2015, down from 273 in 2014. Figures have remained relatively steady after hitting a peak of 321 in 2012.
DoD has also stepped up its suicide prevention in recent years and established the Suicide Prevention office in 2011.
The military has a number of programs aimed at mental health, wellness and suicide prevention, including each unit's Suicide Awareness and Prevention program.
There are a number of options for those seeking mental health care. The peer support program, Vets4Warriors (855-838-8255) offers a 24/7 call center and website providing counseling and case management to active-duty, National Guard and reserve members, retirees and their families.