Colonel from troubled U.S. Army base charged with making threats

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 13, 2012 10:48 PM
Colonel from troubled U.S. Army base charged with making threats

By Laura L. Myers

SEATTLE (Reuters) - A U.S. Army officer from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the home installation of the soldier suspected of massacring Afghan civilians, was charged on Tuesday with threatening the lives of his estranged wife, a girlfriend and his boss.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Underwood, 46, was jailed in Tacoma on three counts of felony harassment, becoming the latest in a recent string of soldiers from Lewis-McChord to run afoul of the law during or after their overseas deployments.

Authorities said Underwood, described as disgruntled over a bitter two-year divorce, had also talked about blowing up the state Capitol building in Olympia.

Court documents filed in the case said he told one of his daughters that "he was going to do something crazy and it would be on the news."

But investigators lacked sufficient evidence to immediately charge him with making such a threat, Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist told Reuters.

Underwood served a tour of duty in Iraq in 2003 and one last year in Afghanistan before arriving at Lewis-McChord in January as a member of the 191st Infantry Brigade, which trains Army reserve and National Guard units, base spokesman Joe Kubistek said.

The sprawling Army and Air Force facility near Tacoma has drawn scrutiny as the home base of several soldiers convicted in recent months of wartime atrocities in Afghanistan and as an installation scarred by a record number of suicides last year.

Most recently it was revealed that the Army staff sergeant accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers in cold blood on Sunday was stationed at Lewis-McChord. And the base hospital has come under investigation for the way it has handled cases of post-traumatic stress disorder.

An affidavit from a sheriff's detective said the threats Underwood was accused of making came to light when his girlfriend contacted the estranged wife and told her that Underwood had claimed to have paid a hit man $150,000 to kill his spouse and his Army supervisor.

The girlfriend said Underwood later threatened her, too, after she confronted him about finding a nude picture of his teenage daughter on his laptop and evidence that he had searched the Internet for information about how to get teenagers drunk and have sex with them, according to the affidavit

Underwood's direct superior, Lieutenant Colonel Shawn Reed, had him involuntarily evaluated after learning of the alleged threats, the affidavit said.

Despite multiple deployments, the military said Underwood does not suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the affidavit.

However, the document said that Underwood witnessed his mother kill his two siblings when he was a young child and that he was shot multiple times by his mother and left for dead.

Arrested Monday night, Underwood was arraigned on Tuesday in Pierce County Superior Court and was ordered held on $250,000 bond, authorities said.

Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle, said no federal charges had been filed. "It's my understanding that this is being handled in Pierce County."

(Writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)