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Bales' brushes with law involved alcohol; 4 of 5 incidents recorded show risks, experts say

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, accused in the shooting deaths of 17 Afghan civilians, showed risk factors for alcohol abuse, including acting out violently while drunk, but it's unclear whether the Army knew about this behavior or whether he was ever referred to treatment.

Bales, stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord outside Tacoma, is charged with gunning down four women, four men, seven girls and two boys March 11 in two villages near a military outpost in Kandahar province.

No motive has been divulged for the shootings, but the New York Times, citing unnamed senior military officials, reported shortly after the massacre that Bales had been drinking that night with other soldiers.

In the years leading up to the rampage, Bales, who joined the Army in November 2001, had five brushes with the law. Four of those involved alcohol, according to public records and news reports:

A 1998 citation for having alcohol on a Florida beach.

A 2002 arrest for fighting with two security guards at a Tacoma casino while drunk.

A 2005 arrest for driving under the influence in Pierce County, Wash., where Joint Base Lewis-McCord is located.

A 2008 fight at a local bowling alley where police reported Bales was "extremely intoxicated."

Substance-abuse experts say those run-ins with law enforcement show Bales might have a drinking problem.

"Those are definitely risk factors for abuse," said James Oliver, the program manager for chemical-dependency services at Good Samaritan Hospital in nearby Pullayup, Wash.

Lewis-McChord spokesman Maj. Chris Ophardt, citing federal privacy laws, declined to say whether Bales ever had been referred to the Army Substance Abuse Program, which is designed to help soldiers overcome alcohol abuse, or, in worst-case scenarios, to drum them out of the military.

Bales' attorney, John Henry Browne of Seattle, refused to discuss his client's drinking habits.

The Seattle attorney told the Washington Post last week his client took "two sips" of an unknown liquor provided by another soldier on the night of the massacre. Browne called the notion that alcohol had anything to do with his client's alleged behavior "silly."

Regulations under the Army's Substance Abuse Program, last updated in 2009, require company commanders to get involved if they suspect one of their soldiers has a problem.

Commanders who identify soldiers who have abused alcohol "must refer them within five working days for screening, education/training and/or rehabilitation as necessary," the regulations state.

Sanctions facing soldiers who abuse alcohol range from counseling to separation from the military.

Bales did not qualify for separation under the regulations, but it appeared he should have been referred to the substance-abuse program after being charged in 2002 with misdemeanor assault following his fight with the casino guards. The guards told police Bales was intoxicated and rushed at them with a garbage-can lid after they kicked him out of the casino.

Bales received a deferred sentence in Tacoma Municipal Court. The charge later was dismissed after he completed an anger management assessment, had no other law violations in six months and paid a $300 fine, court records show.