YAKIMA, Wash. — After a 24-year-old Army veteran killed himself in 2014 using a gun previously confiscated by the Washington State Patrol, his mother told a police detective her son had spent time in a military prison, so he wasn’t supposed to have a weapon.
Yakima Police Detective Kasey Hampton searched Kyle Juhl’s name in the FBI’s criminal background check system, but he only found a DUI.
“No felonies were showing up on his record,” Hampton said, “nothing that would have prohibited him from possessing or owning a firearm.”
Juhl was sentenced to four years in military prison for using the drug ecstasy and drinking alcohol in 2009 and going AWOL for about two months in 2010, according to the Army’s court-martial order. Maj. Christopher Ophardt, an Army spokesman, said Juhl’s conviction and fingerprint records “were correctly submitted to the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information System in 2010.” It’s not known why that information did not appear on the FBI’s database in 2014.
Problems with the transfer of and law enforcement access to military criminal records in FBI databases drew attention after the November mass shooting at a Texas church. The shooter had been court-martialed on domestic violence charges, but the Air Force didn’t share that information with the FBI, so he was able to buy a firearm.
The cities of New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco filed a lawsuit Dec. 22 against the Defense Department, Army, Air Force and Navy to force them to report criminal activity to the national system. The Army declined to comment on policies for sending criminal data to civilian authorities, due to the lawsuit.
The Smith & Wesson pistol Juhl used to kill himself was seized years before by the State Patrol during an investigation. After that case ended, the State Patrol traded it with a firearms dealer, who sold it. The gun later ended up for sale online.
All other law enforcement agencies in Washington have the option to sell, trade, keep or destroy confiscated guns, but the State Patrol must sell most of its forfeited weapons. The agency is fighting that law in the Legislature. It fears guns it sells will end up in new crimes. Its concerns proved true in this and two other cases identified in an analysis done by The Associated Press .
A pistol the State Patrol sold in 2010 was found by Kent police in 2015 on a man who was prohibited from having guns. The same year, a Lorcin semi-automatic pistol the State Patrol sold was found while Kent police were investigating a man who fired into a car carrying a couple and their 1-year-old daughter, who was killed. The Lorcin was found in a “gang house” frequented by the shooter, police said.
Before he killed himself, Juhl lived with his girlfriend in a second-floor apartment near downtown Yakima. They were engaged, but neighbors say they were having troubles.
Neighbor Edith Castillo said she was doing laundry in the basement when she heard a “loud bang and a big thud, and then screaming.” Castillo saw Juhl’s fiancée running down the stairs. She headed up to see if Juhl was OK.
“When I looked in the window, I saw him lying on the floor, so I just ran inside,” Castillo said. “He was still breathing. He had his engagement ring next to his hand, so he was holding it when it happened. He was bleeding from his head. I was talking to him. I said, ‘Kyle, what did you do?’”
The bullet continued down the hall and through the wall into the neighbor’s bathroom, barely missing Adriana Dehonor as she reached for her 2-year-old son.
“It was literally just about an inch above my head,” Dehonor said.
Both neighbors remembered Juhl fondly as a quiet man who loved night fishing. He was dealing with substance and alcohol issues by going to meetings, they said.
“Kyle had a kind heart and had great friends who loved him. My heart is broken,” his mother, Heidi Espe, said.
Juhl’s conviction for ecstasy, alcohol and going AWOL led to a 48-month sentence at a Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, military prison. He received a “bad conduct” discharge.
“It took me six months to have the base commander reduce his sentence,” Espe said. “Then he was eligible for parole.”
Neighbors said Juhl bought the pistol on Craigslist. In 2014, private party sales in Washington didn’t require a background check by a licensed firearms dealer. That changed in November 2014, two months after Juhl’s death. Now all firearms transfers must go through a licensed gun dealer.
It’s not known if Juhl tried to buy a gun from a store, where he would have had to fill out a federal form asking about felony convictions, military discharges and prison sentences of more than a year.
Hampton said he checked with local agents at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and “they let me know that it was common that sometimes there was a military conviction that wouldn’t be transferred over to our level.”
ATF spokesman Joshua Jackson said the agency wouldn’t comment on the Juhl case, but it’s up to the military to transfer records and the FBI to make sure they’re entered into the database.