Army Silent on Cost of Helicopter Rides for Accused Fort Hood Shooter

Victims of Fort Hood attack feel Army abandoned them while giving accused gunman special consideration

Almost every day, two Army helicopters land at the Bell County Jail to pick up the man known as the “inmate of high value."

Maj. Nidal Hasan, the Army psychiatrist who's accused of gunning down dozens of fellow soldiers at Fort Hood, is that inmate.

The Army helicopters carry Hasan about 20 miles into Fort Hood so he can work on his legal defense.

Since there is no jail at the Army post, Bell County Sheriff Eddy Lange houses Hasan at the Bell County Jail under a special Army contract in a special room the Army equipped to accommodate Hasan’s injuries suffered when he was shot by police officers responding to the attack.

“Every time Mr. Hasan is moved to Fort Hood we incur additional security costs at our facility,” said Lange.

Records obtained by NBC 5 Investigates show the Army pays Bell County roughly $15,000 a month to keep Hasan at their jail.  Lange said the money does not cover the cost of security for the helicopter rides, which now require the sheriff’s department to go on lockdown twice a day to secure the perimeter.

When the choppers land, Lange said he needs to deploy snipers because Hasan is such a security risk.

Lange estimates the helicopter rides cost his department $800 per landing, twice a day, and Bell County taxpayers are footing the bill.

Lange added that the $1,600 figure didn’t include the cost of the flight crew or fuel.

“I don't have any idea what that would be, but it's astronomical,” Lange said. “We are losing money every day he is in our facility.”

NBC 5 Investigates filed a Freedom of Information Act request in February asking for Army records detailing Hasan's transportation expenses, but nearly six months later the Army has not provided the documents and will not say how much the rides cost or answer any questions about the helicopter rides citing security concerns as the reason.

There's no doubt Hasan is a security risk. Law enforcement officials said there have been threats against Hasan as well as threats made by his supporters.   With threats from both sides, it’s easy to wonder why the Army would move him so frequently.

When asked why Hasan is moved so frequently, Lange smiled and said he wasn’t qualified to answer that question.  The Army said the jail doesn't have the right facilities for him to prepare his defense, especially now that he's representing himself.

Hasan's trial is set to begin Tuesday after more than three years of delays, including arguments over whether he could grow a beard – which a military judge allowed in spite of military rules.

The sheriff and other local police departments said they were happy to do their part when Hasan was arrested, they just never imagined it would go on this long.

“I don't think anybody had any idea this thing would drag out for three and a half years,” said Gene Ellis, Chief of the Belton Police Department.

Belton’s officers help with security, especially when the choppers can't fly and a motorcade brings Hasan through town.

Ellis said the cost to his department has been significant, but the delays are far worse for the victim's families.

“The inconvenience we have is nothing compared to their frustration levels,” Ellis said.

“It makes no sense to me and I believe most Americans would feel the same way,” said Howard Berry, whose son Staff Sgt. Josh Berry suffered years of post-traumatic stress after surviving the Fort Hood shooting before taking his own life on Feb. 13, 2013.

“He was tormented yeah.  That's a good word.  He was very tormented.  He was just tortured and wherever he went he couldn't find a safe place because the Army was his safe place,” said Berry.

Berry said his son was constantly frustrated by the fact that Hasan had not been put on trial after more than three years of legal delays.  Meanwhile the Army declined to call the shooting an act of terrorism denying the victims additional benefits and medals awarded to other soldiers wounded in attacks overseas.

“He felt there were considerations that were being given the shooter that weren't being given the victims and he couldn't understand.  He said, ‘When a soldier gets injured on a battlefield, you take care of them,’ and he felt it just wasn't the case,” said Berry.

Other victims told NBC 5 they feel the same way.

“All of the provisions that’s been made for [Hasan], the same courtesy wasn't extended to the victims nor the families of the fallen,” said Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford, who is blind in one eye after the attack on Fort Hood.

Even members of Congress are frustrated with the toll three years of delays have taken on the families.

“They've had to live day in day out re-living this event and not being able to bring this to closure.  So the delay is just really incomprehensible,” said Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn.

Meanwhile, as NBC 5 Investigates first reported, Hasan continues to receive his full Army salary that totals more than $278,000 over the three years since the shooting.

Records show Bell County must provide a private guard for Hasan at least 12 hours a day.

So far, the cost of jailing him totals nearly $600,000, not including the helicopter rides.

For Howard Berry it's another wound in a painful process as he fights for the recognition he believes his son and the other victims deserve.

“It makes me sick.  It makes me ashamed,” said Berry.  "I told him [his son] I still had his back and I still do.  I still do.”

When the trial starts this week the costs will climb even higher as local police provide security for jurors and witnesses for a trial that could last two or three months.

Meanwhile, in July, three congressmen introduced legislation that would strip Hasan's salary and prevent the Army from paying other soldiers accused of serious crimes.

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