Disability advocate group slams ATF for using mentally challenged in questionable operations

Chief Executive Officer of The Arc Peter V. Berns

Chief Executive Officer of The Arc Peter V. Berns. (Photo Credit: The Arc)

An investigative report published by the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel last week revealed a disturbing trend in which the ATF has been using mentally challenged people in operations with questionable practices.

Now, The Arc, the country’s leading advocate for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, is demanding that changes be made immediately.

The Arc’s Chief Executive Officer, Peter V. Berns, sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder on Dec. 12 specifically outlining the problems with the operations and what the organization expects to be done about it.

In the letter, Berns points out that over the years they “have known very competent, inspiring, and visionary DOJ employees working over many decades to ensure full participation for people who face significant barriers in everyday life.”

And while their progress is called “remarkable” Berns also stated that he was “appalled to read news reports of the… ATF agents engaging in entrapment and exploitation designed to prey on the intellectual disability of individuals whom ATF agents sought to engage in their stings…”

And apparently, such exploitation of the mentally challenged occurs much more than the general public realizes, the letter stated.

Berns blatantly states that the questionable behavior of the ATF “must not be allowed to continue” and outlines what actions need to be taken by the department, which include:

  • Launching an immediate investigation into the ATF’s practices which were made public by the report.
  • An immediate end to all practices which exploit people with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities.
  • Suspend any ATF operations which are currently using people with those disabilities.
  • Develop and implement a training program for ATF agents which provides specific information on identifying the mentally challenged and establish protocols which restrict using such individuals in these operations.
  • Conduct the investigation in a comprehensive but timely manner.
  • Petition the courts to reevaluate the legality of the mentally disabled who are currently serving time due to the ATF’s prior operations.

Berns warns Holder that “the public and disability community, in particular, will lose faith in a department which it trusts to protect its rights, not to entice vulnerable people into legal trouble.”

And, of course, The Arc is offering any assistance which is needed to resolve the issues at hand and prevent future problems.

However, it isn’t just The Arc that finds the ATF using the mentally challenged inexcusable.

A longtime ATF agent, who wished to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak about the issue, told the Journal Sentinel that the revelations revealed by the report are “very embarrassing.”

“Taking advantage of mentally handicapped is pretty cheap, that’s pretty low. You are really taking advantage of a child, if you will,” the agent said.

“That is not what we do,” he added. “We take on the worst of the worst, not the mentally disadvantaged kid. That’s no worst of the worst. … That’s poor judgment and people should be held accountable.”

Even opposing political parties agree that something should be done about the questionable practices.

In a letter sent this week to Holder, Inspector General Michael Horowitz, and ATF Director B. Todd Jones, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) calls the accusations “deeply troubling.”

“The methods and tactics used to get illegal firearms off the street raise a number of questions that need to be answered,” the letter reads in part.

U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Milwaukee) also released a statement warning the ATF that they must be cautious to “not exacerbate our current problems” referring to issues discovered in a botched Milwaukee sting. The Milwaukee incident, which was first believed to be an isolated occurrence, resulted in a machine gun being stolen – and never recovered – from an ATF agent during the operation.

U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) also issued a statement previously calling for an investigation into the ATF’s practices.

The Arc has not yet received a response from either Holder or any other ATF official concerning the letter, and a spokesman from the inspector general’s office declined to comment on the issue.

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