The soldier staggered, wounded and bloody, into an Apple Valley mini-mart last weekend claiming to be a victim, shot and robbed while on leave from Iraq.
Now investigators say it was all a ploy: They believe that Army Pfc. Matthew Myers, 20, of Apple Valley arranged for a friend to shoot him so he could avoid returning to Iraq.
Myers first called 911 about 9:30 p.m. Sunday from the AM/PM convenience store at 15333 Rancherias Road, said San Bernardino County sheriff’s spokeswoman Arden Wiltshire.
Myers, home on an emergency family leave while serving with the 101st Airborne Division based at Ft. Campbell, Ky., told sheriff’s investigators that he was walking at the Apple Valley Country Club golf course when he was attacked by an unknown man. He said the assailant took his wallet and military identification before shooting him in his right-front thigh, Wiltshire said.
Myers was taken to St. Mary Medical Center in Apple Valley, where doctors chose not to remove the bullet from his thigh because it would have caused further injury, said sheriff’s spokeswoman Trish Hill.
Investigators began to suspect something was fishy when Myers said he could not describe the suspect or where he fled because it was too dark, Wiltshire said.
They searched unsuccessfully for Myers’ assailant on foot and by helicopter. They found two sets of footprints at the golf course, Hill said, but, “They were walking parallel, like they were together. Things just weren’t adding up.”
Suspecting a cover-up, investigators questioned Myers at the hospital, Hill said, and “the truth came out.”
Before he was released from the hospital that night, Myers admitted to plotting with his friend Daniel Dotterrer, 20, also of Apple Valley to shoot him and fake the robbery, Hill said.
Investigators then went to Dotterrer’s house, Hill said, questioned him and confirmed the story. They now believe that Dotterrer used a .32-caliber handgun to shoot Myers, Wiltshire said.
Sheriff’s officials said Tuesday that they have asked San Bernardino County prosecutors to charge Dotterrer with conspiracy and assault with a deadly weapon and Myers with conspiracy. They also notified Army officials that they are seeking criminal charges against Myers.
Prosecutors said they had not received the Sheriff’s Department’s paperwork and have not yet determined whether to file charges, said Susan Mickey, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office.
Dotterrer refused to discuss the investigation Tuesday through his father, Fred. The elder Dotterrer said his son, a student who is not in the military, has been best friends with Myers since high school, and that Myers, who could not be reached for comment, also did not want to discuss the investigation.
Officials said they don’t know why Myers wanted to avoid completing his tour in Iraq.
Myers, a cavalry scout, enlisted in the Army in June 2007, according to Ft. Campbell media relations officer Cathy Gramling.
She said Myers deployed to Iraq in September, and wasn’t expected to return home until December 2008. Members of his unit are deployed to various parts of Iraq, but centered in and around Baghdad. Gramling could not say where Myers served, adding that the length and reason for his leave were also unclear.
Military officials were aware that Myers was still in California, that he was not AWOL and has not been discharged, Gramling said. She said military investigators plan to wait for results of the civilian investigation before considering Myers’ possible discharge.
A leg wound like Myers’ is unlikely to disqualify a soldier, and it is rare for soldiers to arrange such shootings to avoid service, said Paul Boyce, an Army spokesman in Washington, D.C.
But at least one other soldier arranged a similar shooting, pleading guilty in New York in September to hiring a man to shoot him in the knee for $500.
The military has seen an increase in soldiers returning from Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder, and there have been more soldiers “malingering”: feigning illness or injury to avoid deployment, said Neal Puckett, an Alexandria, Va.-based defense attorney and retired Marine military judge.
Puckett said he receives e-mails daily from soldiers seeking discharge or planning to go AWOL because of post-traumatic stress disorder, and Myers’ concern about returning could be linked.
“You’d have to dig deeper into the case to see if it was a real concern, an imagined concern or he just couldn’t take it anymore -- that’s when you see PTSD,” he said.