Saturday, December 6, 2014
Police: Unclear if man claiming to be Army Ranger broke law
Posted: Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Middletown police and a U.S. Army investigator are reviewing all available video footage to determine if a crime was committed by a man who claimed to be a U.S. Army Ranger when confronted by a veteran at the Oxford Valley Mall on Black Friday.
Middletown police Chief Joseph Bartorilla on Tuesday said that the investigation is looking into whether the man sought or received military discounts while at the mall in Middletown that day or if he violated a state law that forbids the unauthorized wearing of military decorations.
At this point jurisdiction over the case has not yet been determined, but the investigation is being handled on multiple fronts, Bartorilla said.
So far, the investigation findings haven’t pinpointed if the man sought a military discount at a shoe store, before being confronted by a local Army veteran, Sgt. Ryan Berk, who suspected the man was not a soldier.
Falsely claiming to be a member of the military is not illegal, but under the Stolen Valor Act of 2013, it’s against federal law for an individual to fraudulently portray him or herself as a recipient of any of several specified military decorations or medals with the intent to obtain money, property or other “tangible” benefit.
Similarly under Pennsylvania law, it’s a summary offense to falsely wear a military or police uniform or other insignia for purposes of obtaining a profit, soliciting business or fundraising. It is a third-degree misdemeanor to purchase, sell, offer for sale, accept, pledge or pawn — without authorization — any medal, insignia or decoration for service in the Armed Forces, Bartorilla said.
Berk, 26, of Northampton, who served in the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division in Afghanistan in 2010-11, captured his confrontation with the man in a video posted on YouTube, which has generated more than 2.1 million views as of Tuesday evening.
The viral video prompted U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, R-8, who lives in Middletown, to send a letter to Philadelphia-area U.S. attorney Zane Memeger on Monday, notifying him that the video could “possibly” contain evidence of a federal crime.
In the video, the alleged fake Army Ranger is wearing three military badges awarded for combat service.
The executive director of the National Infantry Association, retired Col. Richard Nurnberg, on Tuesday said that the alleged Ranger’s name does not appear in the U.S. Army’s database, meaning he is not active duty or recently retired.
Nurnberg said he is also checking to see if the man serves in the Army Rangers, an elite military special forces unit.
“Looking at him, I’m sure he’s not,” he added.
The newspaper is withholding the identity of the man who claimed to be a Ranger because he has not been charged with a crime. The newspaper also was unsuccessful in reaching him for comment after several attempts.
A woman who answered the door of the man’s house on Saturday claimed the man had a military background but declined to provide details. She said the family had no comment on the issue.
Berk, who is studying criminal justice at Temple University, said he noticed the man‘s Army fatigues while he was shopping in a shoe store. But when he got a closer look, Berk said, he noticed “little things” that were off about the man’s appearance — the shoelaces on his boots weren’t right, an American flag patch was in the wrong spot on his sleeve, and he was missing a combat patch.
They are things that most civilians wouldn’t pick up on but that no military veteran would get wrong, Berk said.
What inspired him to confront the man, Berk said, was a 20-minute conversation he overheard during which the alleged soldier told a small boy about his military experiences. Berk received a Purple Heart after he was hit in the face and head with shrapnel while in Afghanistan in 2010.
After the man left the store, Berk turned on his smartphone camera and called him over, claiming his son admired guys in the Army. Berk did not identify himself as an Army veteran until almost at the end of the video, which is 3 minutes, 26 seconds long.
In the video, the alleged Ranger claimed to be a staff sergeant with the 75th U.S. Army Rangers Regiment, 2nd Battalion. He also claimed to have recently returned to the area from Fort Lewis in Washington State, which is where the regiment is stationed.
But the man had trouble answering some basic military service questions including how he received the three Combat Infantrymen Badges he wore, Berk added.
When Berk responded that he would need to be in three different campaigns, the man said that one badge was for service in Iraq and the others for different tours of Afghanistan.
Nurnberg, of the National Infantry Association, confirmed that only one CIB would be awarded for service in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring Freedom) and/or Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn).
The National Infantry Museum at Fort Benning, Georgia, which tracks Army service personnel with three CIBs, lists only 324 who received the three and the alleged Army Ranger is not on the list. There are four periods for which an award of the badge can be made: World War II, Korea, Vietnam and other Cold War era actions through March 1995 and the War on Terror 2001-present, according to the Army.
“The only three-time earners would have had to serve in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, because nobody who earned one in Korea would have still been active for the desert wars,” Nurnberg added.