Base sergeant convicted of reckless child endangerment

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The stepfather of the five-year-old child who accidentally shot and seriously wounded a Mountain Home high school student in February was convicted of reckless endangerment during a court-martial June 22.

Staff Sgt. Nathanel Harman from the 366th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron was sentenced to six month's confinement and ordered to forfeit $500 pay per month for six months.

During the trial, the military judge found Harman guilty of wrongfully and recklessly causing a loaded firearm to be unsecured and accessible to a child.

According to the evidence presented at trial, Harman left a loaded 9mm semi-automatic pistol next to his mattress the morning of the shooting on Feb. 3. The child found the gun and while playing with the gun in his yard accidentally shot Leonard Partinda at the corner of North 10th East and East Jackson streets.

The shooting happened about half a block from the Hacker Middle School as the teen walked with friends to grab some lunch at a local convenience store. After two surgeries and several weeks of recovery, the teen continues to improve since the shooting, his mother said in a previous interview with the Mountain Home News.

The Mountain Home Police Department, with support from the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, investigated the shooting because it happened within city limits. After reviewing the case, the Elmore County prosecutor's office determined justice could best be obtained by waiving primary jurisdiction of the case and turning case files over to military authorities, who could prosecute Harman under the Uniform Code of Military Justice -- the Congressional code of military criminal law which applies to all U.S. military members.

Harman was charged with one specification of reckless endangerment in violation of Article 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice by his squadron commander. The 366th Fighter Wing commander, in his role under military law as the convening authority, referred the charge and specification to a special court-martial to be convened at Mountain Home Air Force Base. Harman pled not guilty to the charge and requested trial by military judge alone.

In describing the government's case, lawyers representing the Air Force said, "Our case against Staff Sergeant Harman revolved around his complete disregard of the apparent danger he created by leaving a loaded handgun within easy reach of the five year-old child. The fact that Sergeant Harman had observed his stepson climbing on top of cabinets to reach that loaded handgun on top of the refrigerator just three days prior to the shooting highlighted sergeant's recklessness and disregard for basic firearms safety."

Harman's defense counsel argued that while the sergeant was negligent, he should not be held criminally liable because he did not intend to do any harm. His lawyer also asked the military judge to consider the noncommissioned officer's nearly seven years of good military service in determining the proper outcome.

"The Elmore County Prosecuting Attorney's Office is pleased to see justice served in this tragic situation," a spokesman for the prosecutor's office said. "We credit the efforts of members of the Mountain Home Police Department, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations and the Mountain Home Air Force Base Staff Judge Advocate's office, and praise the fact the inter-agency cooperation has led to Sergeant Harman being held accountable for his actions."

Although Harman's confinement began immediately after trial, the convening authority, wing commander Col. Ronald Buckley, must take action to approve, disapprove or modify the findings and sentence of the court-martial before the case is final. Before the colonel takes action, Harman gains the opportunity to submit matters to the convening authority for his consideration prior to taking action on the case, including a petition for clemency.

Harman is expected to be transferred to a Department of Defense regional confinement facility within the next two weeks.

Despite the sergeant's conviction, his wife will not stand trial for her role in the accidental shooting. A motion submitted by the Elmore County Prosecutor's Office on June 23 recommended dismissing the felony charge against Molly Harman.

In mid-March, the county prosecutor charged her with one count of felony injury to children. Earlier this month, a grand jury hearing did not return an indictment in the case, prompting the prosecutor's office to recommend dismissing the case.

Harman, formerly known as McFadden before she married her live-in boyfriend, was originally charged with the one felony count.