April 16th, 2014

Shameful Staff Destroy Over 1,800 Military Records of Veterans

With all of the tireless volunteers around the world striving to find and preserve genealogical records, it is heartbreaking to discover that employees of the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis consider genealogical records nothing more than trash to be discarded in order to receive an incentive bonus. That’s right, rather than making an effort to file the records quickly and efficiently to earn their bonus, several employees of the Center have admitted to destroying them instead.

The National Personnel Records Center is the repository for millions of health, medical, and personnel, records of deceased and discharged veterans of all service branches during the 20th century. The Center also houses and manages the records of dependents and others who have been treated at medical facilities operated by the US military.

It was discovered last year that two employees, Stanley Engram, 21, and Lonnie Halkmon, 28, were responsible for deliberately misfiling or destroying more than 1,800 records. The situation was discovered after an audit was conducted on the records filed by employees at the Center during 2011 and 2012. Most employees had an error rate of approximately 3%, however a half dozen had disproportionately high error levels, Engram and Halkmon the worst. An investigation by the state revealed that employees were destroying the records, or stashing them in order to increase their productivity levels in order to receive bonuses.

The audit and investigation began after 241 records were found in the woods near the Center. The Social Security numbers on the documents traced the records back to Engram who admitted he had disposed of the records in the forest, and had destroyed some at his home as well. In total he told investigators that he had destroyed or misfiling more than 1,000 of the valuable military documents himself. Both individuals pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of destruction of government records and on Thursday, January 30, 2014, Lonnie Halkmon was given a sentence of two years of probation and 40 hours of community service. Engram had pleaded guilty and awaits sentencing.

Many feel the sentence handed down to Halkmon was too light, especially by those who are researching their ancestry. One reader on the website of Jonathan Hurley, a nationally recognized legal scholar, commented, “To read that someone would destroy and stash records that some families have been searching for is disturbing. I do think these defendants were undercharged. They may have wittingly or unwittingly robbed many families of a history of their loved ones that they may not be able to recover.”

It really is incredibly that someone could willfully destroy government properly and get a slap on the wrist. What do you think? Was the sentence handed down by U.S. Magistrate Judge Nanette Baker too lenient? Feel free to leave a comment below, and if you would like to see what others are saying, you can visit the Jonathan Hurley Blog.