TAMPA — Last summer, MacDill Air Force Base officers were issued an alert to be on the lookout for former Army Ranger Scott Harkenreader. When they found him on the base, he had a loaded handgun and 300 rounds of ammunition in his truck.
Authorities initially wondered if they'd prevented another incident like the one that happened at Fort Hood or at Columbine. But in a federal courtroom Thursday morning, Judge Anthony Porcelli said that wasn't the case.
Hardly any of the ammunition, which was underneath a back seat, would've fired in the handgun. Federal prosecutors ended up pursuing only a misdemeanor charge of bringing weapons on the base.
Still, Harkenreader, a 20-year Army veteran who worked on the base as a civilian Department of Defense employee, pleaded guilty to violating MacDill's policy that prohibits civilians from bringing weapons onto the base.
The judge sentenced him to 1 1/2 years of probation, ordered him to undergo substance abuse treatment and to continue with the mental health counseling he already receives.
Harkenreader, who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, told the judge that his son-in-law had left the ammunition in his truck after they'd visited a shooting range. He also said his handgun had been covered up on the front seat and he'd forgotten it was there. He said the tip to officers that he wanted to cause harm came from co-workers who did not like him.
"I'm not a terrorist. I'm not an extremist," Harkenreader, 49, read from a prepared statement. "I'm an American and devout Christian who was subjected to an orchestrated effort by a certain group of people who attempted to bring defamation to my character."
His attorney, Paul Sisco, said other domestic shootings, such as the ones at Fort Hood, Texas, and Colorado's Columbine High School, shaped the government's response to Harkenreader.
"There is a certain momentum in cases like this, where defendants are punished not for something they've done, but for what other people have done," he said.
Under a plea agreement, prosecutors recommended Harkenreader be sentenced to one year of supervised release, surrender the gun, undergo psychiatric care and not return to MacDill.
Porcelli added six months to the supervised release to make sure Harkenreader stays in mental health treatment. He declined to require Harkenreader surrender the weapon, though Sisco said Thursday afternoon that Harkenreader planned to relinquish the weapon and ammunition.
Porcelli called it a "tragedy" that Harkenreader's mistake tainted his otherwise good record, which includes active duty in Grenada and other U.S. military campaigns. But MacDill officers acted on a tip, and the fact Harkenreader did have a gun and ammunition didn't help his case.
"They can't take any of the violations slightly," the judge said.
Reach Jodie Tillman at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374.