MEMPHIS, Tenn. – A Tennessee National Guard recruiter charged with trying to kill four of his superiors at an armory told a fellow soldier he would start shooting if he was fired from his job, an FBI agent testified Friday.
Special Agent Matthew Ross revealed the information at a detention hearing for Sgt. 1st Class Amos Patton. Magistrate Judge Charmaine Claxton later denied bond for Patton, a 14-year-Guard veteran who has pleaded not guilty to charges that he tried to kill four Guard members when he opened fire inside the armory in Millington, northeast of Memphis. Patton's lawyer had asked the judge to give him house arrest until his Feb. 10 trial.
Ross testified that Patton was being disciplined after an investigation into sexual assault claims by a female soldier when he opened fire inside a guard armory on Oct. 24. Prosecutors say Patton, 42, pulled a gun from a fanny pack and started shooting after he was told he was being relieved of duty and dismissed from active service for misconduct. Authorities say three guard members suffered minor injuries in the shooting. A fourth soldier fought with Patton and helped subdue him after he fled the armory.
Prosecutors and Guard officials had released information about the shooting, but Friday's hearing revealed more details about the circumstances that led up to it, including prior altercations Patton allegedly had with his wife of 18 years and threats of suicide.
During the roughly three-month sexual assault investigation, Patton began to confide in Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Turner, Ross said.
Turner told Ross that Patton threatened he "would in fact pull out a gun and shoot everyone that was there" if he was fired, Ross said.
Ross said Patton also told Turner that he was going to kill the woman who made the sexual assault allegations, then commit suicide. Patton never went through with it.
Turner never forwarded the threats to superiors, Ross said.
After Patton received his punishment, he and two superiors went to his government-issued car parked outside the armory. The three were going back to Patton's office in Bartlett to retrieve a computer and take him to his personal vehicle, Ross said.
Patton retrieved a bag and a fanny pack from the car, then asked to go to the bathroom, Ross said. Patton entered the armory but was told that he could not go into the bathroom with the bag and fanny pack.
That's when Patton took the gun out of the fanny pack, Ross said. Maj. William J. Crawford tried to restrain Patton, but Patton was able to fire shots, Ross said.
Crawford was shot in the thigh and Sgt. Maj. Ricky McKenzie was hit in the foot.
Lt. Col. Hunter Belcher was grazed by a bullet just below the right knee. Another round went through a backpack Belcher was wearing, grazing his back.
Crawford began fighting with Patton and was able to wrest away the gun before Patton ran out of the armory, Ross said. On the way out, Patton passed McKenzie, who had his gun aimed at the fleeing soldier.
"Sgt. Patton looked at Maj. McKenzie and said 'Go ahead,'" Ross said.
McKenzie did not shoot.
Patton then ran to another car and asked the driver, a Guard member, to give him a ride. But the driver saw other Guard members running to the car and began fighting Patton over the keys, Ross said.
Patton was subdued and taken into custody by Millington police. The incident lasted just a few minutes.
Earlier in the hearing, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Agent John Simmons testified Patton was charged with assault after a 1996 altercation with his wife, Brenda Frazier-Patton. Patton was convicted and sentenced to a brief stint in jail.
Simmons questioned Patton's wife the day of the armory shooting. Frazier-Patton told Simmons that her husband had been abusive toward her, and that they had another altercation about four months before the armory shooting in which Patton had threated to kill her, then himself, if she left him.
Frazier-Patton denied telling that to Simmons. She also testified she would welcome her husband back into their home, where they live with their two sons, if he received house arrest.
But Claxton said the seriousness of the charges and the weight of the evidence was enough to keep Patton in jail.