California Guard Cleared of Wrongdoing in Taking Fire Donations
Members of a California National Guard military police company accused of stealing donations intended for Southern California wildfire victims were cleared Wednesday of criminal wrongdoing.
SACRAMENTO (AP) -- Members of a California National Guard military police company accused of stealing donations intended for Southern California wildfire victims were cleared Wednesday of criminal wrongdoing.
A military investigator's report confirmed the soldiers took items last week from a fire station used by relief workers near the U.S.-Mexico border, according to a copy of the findings obtained by The Associated Press.
However, the report indicates volunteers told the soldiers to "help themselves to any supplies." Volunteers then called and reported a theft as the soldiers carried the goods away.
Guard officials previously told the AP the soldiers took more than the volunteers believed were acceptable, including cartons of snacks and diapers. The report said all the items have been returned.
It also said deputies with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department who responded to the call found no wrongdoing.
Deputies "determined that a crime had not occurred and no probable cause existed to make an arrest and left without any further police action," according to the report.
"This is nothing more than a misunderstanding that was aggravated by poor judgment and a lack of communication," Guard spokesman Lt. Col. John Siepmann said.
Guard investigators are still trying to determine whether any soldiers should face disciplinary action.
Thirty-six soldiers from the 330th Military Police Co. were sequestered following the incident and deposed by military investigators. They were bused back to their base in Ontario, east of Los Angeles, on Monday, a day after most other Guardsmen deployed to the wildfires were allowed to return home.
The noncommissioned officer in charge when the incident occurred was relieved of his leadership post "as a result of actions he took that inflamed the situation," Siepmann said.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger deployed 1,500 members of the California National Guard on Oct. 21.
In all, 2,500 Guardsmen assisted in disaster relief for the series of wildfires that destroyed some 2,100 homes and charred more than 800 square miles from Los Angeles County to the Mexican border.