As Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales was charged Friday with the murder of 17 Afghan civilians, one of the key questions in the case will be whether Bales — as reported by a U.S. official familiar with the case — was drinking before the middle-of-the-night rampage.
Scrutiny is also likely to be focused on Bales’ past brushes with the law, which show that he more than once had been drinking when ran into trouble with the police. Court records show a citation in Florida for having alcohol on a beach in 1998, a charge involving a drunken assault at a casino in 2002, a reported drunk driving arrest in 2005, an alcohol-infused brawl outside a bowling alley in 2008 and another case that same year — not specifically charged as drunk driving -- in which Bales rolled his car and was seen fleeing into the woods.
In the bowling alley case, Bales was “extremely intoxicated” when he approached a woman standing with her boyfriend outside the entrance, a Pierce County sheriff’s deputy wrote in his report.
“He was observed staggering. His eyes were glassy and there was a strong odor of alcoholic beverage about his person. Speech was mumbled and slurred. The effects of alcohol were extreme,” the officer wrote.
The woman, Myra Irish, said Bales walked up to her and told her she was “beautiful.”
“And then he grabbed my hand and put it on his crotch,” she said in an interview. “Then my boyfriend said, ‘You owe her an apology for that; that was rude.’ He wouldn’t do it, and the next thing I know he was kicking [my boyfriend]. He got him on the ground and started to whale on him.”
The security guards came and broke it up, and Bales’ friends, also apparently drunk, begged her not to file a report, Irish said.
“His friends told me, ‘Please don’t do a police report, ‘cause he’s married, he’s drunk, he’s in the service, and it would really ruin his life,’ ” she said. Still, she opted to file the report at her boyfriend’s urging.
A Pierce County prosecutor’s office spokeswoman said prosecutors elected not to file charges because it was unclear who had started the fight. That may be because one of the only uninvolved witnesses — a friend of Bales who saw the whole thing — also had been drinking. The deputy said he couldn’t get any information out of him.
“He was unable to complete his sentences,” the officer wrote.
The 2002 case also happened outside a bar, this one at a casino, where Bales had been ordered to leave after threatening a customer. Before he did, he rushed at one of the security guards and struck him in the chest — earning himself a criminal assault charge.
He was arrested for drunk driving in 2005 but not charged, according to Washington State Patrol records cited by the Seattle Times, and at the time he was said to have a blood alcohol level of .14.
The 2008 hit-and-run charge stemmed from an incident in which officers found Bales’ car at the scene of a rollover accident in Sumner, Wash., on the two-lane highway near his home in Lake Tapps.
According to the police report, a witness reported seeing a white male leaving the scene of the accident and into the woods shortly after midnight. The man was wearing a military-style uniform, had a shaved head and was bleeding, the witness told police.
After authorities traced his car, Bales told them he had fallen asleep behind the wheel.
Charged with misdemeanor hit-and-run, Bales received a deferred 12-month sentence and was ordered to pay a fine of $250, after which the charge was dismissed.