Lawyer: Army Too Harshly Punished Officer After Deadly Firing Range Accident

June 23, 2022Hannah Ray Lambert
army firing range

A “series of terrible accidents” on Aug. 1, 2018, resulted in a young Army private being fatally shot in the back, according to lawyer Jason Marquez. Marquez represented Capt. Christopher Peeples, who was sentenced to four months in confinement for failing to ensure proper safety standards were followed at the Fort Campbell firing range that day. US Army photo by Spc. Xabiel Schindler.

An Army officer sentenced to jail time for failing to enforce safety procedures at a firing range where a young soldier was fatally shot on Fort Campbell, Kentucky, represents a “terrible case of the Army throwing a young officer into the woodchipper,” according to his attorney.

Capt. Christopher Peeples was convicted of dereliction of duty on April 13 and sentenced to four months in confinement, according to records recently released by the Army, after a court-martial determined his conduct was “likely to cause death or grievous bodily harm” to an Army private who died Aug. 1, 2018. Peeples was in charge of firearms training at the time and failed to follow safety precautions and ensure proper medical care was available at the range, the court ruled.

Peeples was released Wednesday, June 22. Attorney Jason Marquez, who is the executive director of the University of Houston Law Center’s Military Justice Clinic, told Coffee or Die Magazine that his client took responsibility for failing to enforce some safety rules at the range, but that the Army was overzealous in its prosecution, setting a chilling standard for other officers at Fort Campbell.

“A soldier did something dumb with their weapon, which led to this young soldier being shot, and the command whipped out the microscope,” Marquez said. “They decided heads had to end up on spikes.”

The Army redacted the name of the private who died on the range and did not specify the cause of death in court documents. However, 101st Airborne Division Pvt. Jeremy J. Wells died Aug. 1, 2018, during a training incident at a small-arms range on Fort Campbell, according to the Fort Campbell Courier. Wells was treated at the scene and then rushed to the hospital, where he later died from unspecified wounds. He was 19 years old.

firing range
Soldiers drag a weighted medical litter during a training exercise Feb. 16, 2012, at a firing range on Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

According to Marquez, the young private’s death was the result of a “series of terrible accidents.”

One soldier finished firing his rifle and then, without checking to make sure it was unloaded, set it down pointing in the direction of another soldier, Marquez said. At that point the firearm went off, and a round tore through the young soldier’s back, Marquez said.

Peeples was one of three people charged in connection with the incident, Marquez said. The soldier handling the firearm has already served a one-year sentence for his role in the private’s death, and a noncommissioned officer tasked with overseeing range safety was also charged, he said.

Peeples was assigned to B Company, 96th Aviation Support Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, and was the officer in charge of the firing range at the time of the incident.

The officer in charge is generally responsible for ensuring soldiers follow numerous safety standards. The officer must make sure soldiers don’t engage in automatic firing, cross firing, or firing from the hip, and that soldiers keep weapons pointed downrange. Army rules also require that a medic be on site during firing range operations, and the officer in charge is required to make sure medics have a map to the nearest medical facility and know how to get there.

Peeples failed to fulfill several of his duties on the day of the incident, the court found, including ensuring there were enough safety officers at the firing range. Army rules require at least one noncommissioned officer to oversee every four shooters.

army firing range
An Army captain fires at a target during a training exercise at a firing range on Feb. 16, 2012, on Fort Campbell, Kentucky. US Army photo by Sgt. Joe Padula.

According to court documents, Peeples also failed to make sure weapons were inspected to make sure barrels and chambers were clear and that weapons were always pointed in a safe direction.

Peeples also failed to rehearse medevac procedures and “negligently failed to ensure the overall safe conduct of training and proper use of the installation training complex,” the court-martial found.

The Army originally sought to prosecute Peeples for manslaughter, Marquez said, but Peeples ultimately pleaded guilty to a single specification for reckless endangerment.

“He took responsibility for the things that he didn’t do correctly on the range that day,” Marquez said. “But there’s nothing that occurred on this range that doesn’t happen in one aspect or another on any range on any given day. The thing that happened this time is a soldier died.”

Peeples was released Wednesday after having a month shaved off his sentence because the judge determined he had been subjected to unlawful pre-trial punishment, Marquez said. During the three and a half years that Peeples awaited trial, his command assigned him to “demeaning details” and carried out other “hazing instances” rather than treating him as innocent until proven guilty, Marquez said.

Read Next: Inside One MARSOC Team’s Fight for Justice After False War Crimes Allegations

Hannah Ray Lambert
Hannah Ray Lambert

Hannah Ray Lambert is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die who previously covered everything from murder trials to high school trap shooting teams. She spent several months getting tear gassed during the 2020-2021 civil unrest in Portland, Oregon. When she’s not working, Hannah enjoys hiking, reading, and talking about authors and books on her podcast Between Lewis and Lovecraft.

More from Coffee or Die Magazine
Ukraine: Russia Hits Apartments and Dorm, Killing Civilians

“Russia is shelling the city with bestial savagery,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy wrote in a Telegr...

March 22, 2023Associated Press
cold brew coffee soda float
The Bitter Barista's Cold Brew Coffee Soda Float

Today, we combine the best of both worlds with this indulgent recipe, smashing together our love of coffee and ice cream with a cold brew coffee soda float!

March 21, 2023Heather Lynn
abrams tanks ukraine
US Speeds Up Abrams Tank Delivery to Ukraine War Zone

The original plan was to send Ukraine 31 of the newer M1A2 Abrams, which could have taken a year or ...

March 21, 2023Associated Press
Coffee Or Die Photo
US: War Crimes on All Sides in Ethiopia's Tigray Conflict

The Biden administration announced Monday that it has determined all sides in the brutal conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.

March 20, 2023Associated Press
military pilots cancer rates
Higher Cancer Rates Found in Military Pilots, Ground Crews

In its yearlong study of almost 900,000 service members who flew on or worked on military aircraft b...

March 20, 2023Associated Press
whiskey pour
Veterans Lead the Way Among America’s Growing Craft Distilleries

American veterans are taking the lessons they learned in the military and changing the craft distilling industry.

March 20, 2023Mac Caltrider
military suicide veteran suicide
Military Moves To Cut Suicides, But Defers Action on Guns

In a memo released Thursday, Austin called for the establishment of a suicide prevention working gro...

March 17, 2023Associated Press
us military drills japan-south korea
US, Partners Stage Military Drills Amid Japan-South Korea Talks

The Sea Dragon 23 exercises that started on Wednesday will culminate in more than 270 hours of in-fl...

March 17, 2023Associated Press
  • About Us
  • Privacy Policy
  • Careers
Contact Us
  • Request a Correction
  • Write for Us
  • General Inquiries
© 2023 Coffee or Die Magazine. All Rights Reserved