Bases A Black Hole For Juvenile Justice -- Teen Accused Of Raping 7-Year-Old Boy At Fort Lewis

FORT LEWIS, Pierce County - Under state, federal or military law, the charge would be rape.

None of those laws may apply, however, to a 13-year-old who investigators think violated a 7-year-old boy March 12 and who parents think molested two other children.

That's because this sprawling Army base and neighboring McChord Air Force Base are a black hole of juvenile justice.

Military law doesn't apply to the 11,000 dependent civilians who live in base housing at the two installations south of Tacoma. And state law enforcement ends at the entry gate.

That leaves the U.S. attorney's office, which lacks access to social workers, programs and support systems for youngsters who run afoul of the law.

"They told me they had only prosecuted two juveniles at Fort Lewis in the past 10 years," said the mother of the 7-year-old, "and one of them was a homicide.

"For juveniles, that means you have to commit murder before they do anything to you."

U.S. Attorney Kate Pflaumer in Seattle said she was unable to determine, without research, how many juvenile prosecutions her office had handled in the past 10 years. Under federal privacy laws, juvenile arrests, trials and treatment usually are sealed.

Army criminal investigators and lawyers refused to talk about the 13-year-old, nor would anyone in the Fort Lewis judge advocate's office grant an interview.

Under state law, first-degree child rape by a juvenile carries a mandatory sentence of 13 to 16 weeks in confinement with counseling, followed by two years on probation and registration with police as a sex offender.

Practically all of McChord and Fort Lewis are exclusively within federal jurisdiction under an agreement dating from 1917, when Tacoma residents seeking to benefit from World War I spending offered 70,000 acres of land to the Army. Military officials agreed on condition that the state cede all jurisdiction.

Military authorities typically attack juvenile problems in base housing by putting pressure on active-duty parents to get troubled youngsters into counseling.

Sometimes, however, soldiers say that tactic backfires.

One foulup, even by a relative on the post, can ruin a military career, so many soldiers try to hide problems.

The mother of the 7-year-old is an exception, raising her complaint through the Army's chain of command and to her congressional representatives.

"Every day I expect the Army's `shut-up squad' to come knocking on my door," she said. "Well, I'm not going to shut up. If I have to scream on Capitol Hill until my dying day, I'll do it. When that little pervert raped my son, he picked on the wrong little boy."

Parents say the 13-year-old asked at least two additional children to perform various sex acts to join his "Playboy Club" in a wooded ravine behind their homes in the Beachwood housing area.

For seven weeks after the mother reported the attack and rushed her son to Madigan Army Medical Center, the 13-year-old continued to live down the street.

"Almost every day I'd look out the kitchen window and see the little pervert on his way to school," she said. "He'd smile at me and wave."

Too frightened to leave his yard, her boy slept on the floor in a corner of his bedroom and hid knives in case the rapist came back. More than once, he said he wanted to die, the mother said.

"This has warped my son," she said.

Finally, she sent him to live with her mother and undergo therapy in North Carolina.

Last week, she joined him, vowing never again to live on a military base even though it means splitting the family. Her husband, a sergeant, plans to visit them when he can.

On May 1, Army officials forced the 13-year-old's family to move under a provision that allows families to be evicted for misconduct by civilian dependents.

"That just moved the problem somewhere else. It didn't solve anything," the mother of the 7-year-old said.