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Explosives charges against Army Sergeant dismissed

Sgt. Trey Atwater

Charges against the U.S. Army Sergeant who was accused of trying to bring military-grade explosives aboard a commercial airliner were dismissed because of insufficient evidence.

Sergeant Trey Atwater was accused on New Year’s Eve of having C4 military-grade explosives in his carry-on luggage while passing through a Midland, TX airport security checkpoint. He claimed he used the explosives as a demolition expert while serving in Afghanistan, but didn’t know they were still in his bag. Atwater had also been detained days earlier at the Fayetteville, NC, airport after security agents found a military smoke grenade in his carry-on bag. News reports have said screeners at the Fayetteville airport may have missed the C-4 in the earlier screening that revealed the smoke grenade.

Atwater had been released from jail on Jan. 6. Federal investigators had said their investigation indicated he didn’t pose a threat to the public and authorities didn’t want to hold him any longer. Investigators, however, told the judge overseeing Atwater’s release that they considered the incident at Midland Airport to by “very serious.”

On Feb. 17, U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman said he had filed a motion to dismiss a criminal complaint against Atwater with attempting to board an aircraft with an explosive device. The motion said that after a thorough investigation by the FBI, there wasn’t sufficient evidence to prove Atwater knew he was carrying explosives in his carry-on bag.

Atwater was arrested on December 31, 2011, at the Midland International Airport after the discovery of two blocks of C-4 explosives, weighing approximately 2.5 pounds, lodged between padding in the lumbar area of the backpack he was carrying.

The FBI’s investigation confirmed Atwater was a demolitions expert for the U.S. Army and served three tours in Afghanistan with a Special Forces Group. He returned to Ft. Bragg, NC, after his last tour in late April or early May 2011. He had traveled from there to Midland with his family for the holidays and was returning to North Carolina, said a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Western District of Texas. It said the investigation found that as a demolitions expert, he routinely carried quantities of C-4 explosives in his backpack in Afghanistan and it was common for soldiers in Atwater's unit to carry at least two blocks of C-4 while on missions.

According to the investigation, Atwater stated he stored the backpack in his garage after he returned home from Afghanistan and didn’t know the explosives were in the pack when he used it to travel to Midland. The C-4 found in Atwater's pack came from a lot number that was exclusively shipped to Afghanistan and Iraq, said the statement.

“Consistent with Atwater's account, the FBI concluded that the C-4 was, in fact, in Atwater's pack when he traveled from North Carolina to Midland,” said the statement and the investigation developed no evidence that Atwater knowingly possessed the explosives on December 31, 2011, at the Midland airport or that he intended to board an aircraft in possession of explosives.  It added that Atwater's work record shows that he has been an above-average soldier in many respects, with “excellent” ratings in most individual categories, and recent overall ratings of “among the best.” Nothing in his records raises questions about his stability, it said.

Although the federal charges were dismissed, Atwater may not be out of the woods with the Army. “It should be noted that ending this prosecution will not necessarily resolve the matter for Sgt. Atwater. He will likely face administrative or other measures by the U.S. Army,” said the statement.

 

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