Law
3:59 pm
Thu July 25, 2013

Federal Case Pits Wounded Warrior Against FBI

Originally published on Thu July 25, 2013 4:43 pm

Army Ranger Justin Slaby served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. While he was back in the U.S. preparing to deploy for a fourth tour, his left hand was blown off by a faulty grenade in a training accident. After being fitted with a state-of-the-art prosthesis, Slaby was encouraged by one of his doctors to try for a career in the FBI. What happened next has landed the ex-Ranger and the FBI in court and already tarnished the career of a high-ranking agent.

John Griffin, Slaby's attorney, describes him this way: "Driven, he's focused, he's a perfectionist and wants to be evaluated on the merits." Griffin says Slaby was easily able to pass the FBI's fitness-for-duty examination in 2010. In Slaby's deposition in May, the former Ranger explained how he proved his proficiency with weapons during the exam.

"For each task in the exam, I demonstrated both with two of my main prosthetics just to demonstrate I could execute every task regardless of the prosthetic," Slaby says.

"He did great," Griffin says. "And he was certified as able to perform the essential functions of the job and soon afterward, the FBI hired him as a special agent."

But when Slaby reported to Quantico, he immediately began encountering attitude from the training division. According to the lawsuit, Slaby's classmates overheard their trainers snickering in the hallway: "What are they going to send us next? Guys in wheelchairs?" They'd never had a guy like Slaby try to be an agent, and they seemed determined to prove he couldn't cut it.

"There was an assumption made because he was the first that he would need special treatment," Griffin says.

Six weeks into a 21-week program, Slaby was told he was out. His trainers had come to the conclusion that he couldn't safely handle a weapon. Slaby argued, "Let me go to the firing range, and I'll show you what I can do." But his trainers refused. There'd be no demonstration. Their minds were made up and that was it.

But Slaby wasn't about to be sent packing. He hired veteran Texas lawyers John Griffin and Kathy Butler and sued in federal court. And that's when it got uglier. When the FBI agent who originally approved Slaby as fit for duty was subpoenaed to testify, he was quickly summoned to his boss's office. FBI Agent Mark Crider had seen Slaby handle a firearm and believed he could do the job as well as any other recruit. But Crider's boss, Special Agent in Charge Teresa Carlson, wanted to make sure Crider understood he had better not side with the former soldier. In a deposition, Crider testified as to what happened after he was summoned to his boss's office.

"The gist of the conversation was that Justin was ruining his reputation by bringing the lawsuit and he has no business being an agent," Crider said in the deposition. "And that it would be in my best interest to come down on the side of the government in this matter."

Crider's boss wanted him to testify he no longer thought Slaby was fit for FBI duty. But Crider was having none of that.

"I actually went back to my desk and wrote the entire thing up in case I needed it later," he said.

Crider complained to the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility, which reported it to the Inspector General's Office at the Justice Department, and with that, the cat was out of the bag. At an evidentiary hearing on June 12, Carlson, Crider's boss, refused to answer questions as to whether she had suborned perjury by asking her subordinate to lie under oath. Carlson has been quietly removed from her post and now faces an investigation. The FBI refused to comment for this story, citing the pending legal action.

As for former Army Ranger and hopeful FBI agent Slaby, in his original appeal of the FBI's decision he wrote to the bureau: "Despite all that has occurred, I have not lost my faith in this organization, and I believe in its mission. I just need someone out there to believe in me."

His federal lawsuit for reinstatement begins Monday in Virginia.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Now, an unusual case that is headed for federal court. It pits a wounded veteran against the FBI. Army Ranger Justin Slaby served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan. His left hand was blown off in a training accident. Slaby was fitted with a state-of-the-art prosthetic, and then encouraged by one of his doctors to try for a career in the FBI. NPR's Wade Goodwyn explains what happened next.

WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Like Navy SEALs, Army Rangers are elite soldiers, highly skilled and able to endure the most rigorous physical hardships. So it came as no surprise to many that after suffering the horror of his left hand being blown off by a defective grenade, Justin Slaby was completely undeterred.

JOHN GRIFFIN: He's driven, he's focused, he's a perfectionist and wants to be evaluated on the merits.

GOODWYN: John Griffin is Slaby's attorney. Griffin says Justin Slaby was easily able to pass the FBI's fitness-for-duty examination in 2010. In Slaby's deposition in May, the former Ranger explained how he proved his proficiency with weapons during the exam.

JUSTIN SLABY: For each task in the exam, I demonstrated both with two of my main prosthetics just to demonstrate I could execute every task regardless of the prosthetic.

GRIFFIN: He did great.

GOODWYN: Slaby's lawyer John Griffin.

GRIFFIN: And he was certified as able to perform the essential functions of the job, and soon afterward, the FBI hired him as a special agent.

GOODWYN: But when Slaby reported to Quantico, he immediately began encountering attitude from the training division. According to the lawsuit, Slaby's classmates overheard their trainers snickering in the hallway: What are they going to send us next, guys in wheelchairs? They'd never had a guy like Slaby try to be an agent before, and they seemed determined to prove he couldn't cut it.

GRIFFIN: There was an assumption made because he was the first, that he would need special treatment.

GOODWYN: Six weeks into the 21-week program, Slaby was told he was out. His trainers had come to the conclusion that he couldn't safely handle a weapon. Slaby argued: Let me go to the firing range and I'll show you what I can do. But his trainers refused, there'd be no demonstration, their minds were made and that was it.

But Slaby wasn't about to be sent packing. He hired veteran Texas lawyers John Griffin and Kathy Butler and sued in federal court. And that's when it got uglier. When the FBI agent who originally approved Slaby as fit for duty was subpoenaed to testify, he was quickly summoned to his boss' office.

FBI Agent Mark Crider had seen Slaby handle a firearm and believed he could do the job as well as any other recruit. But Crider's boss, Special Agent in Charge Teresa Carlson, wanted to make sure Crider understood he better not side with the former soldier. In a deposition, Crider testified as to what happened after he was summoned to his boss' office.

MARK CRIDER: The gist of the conversation was that Justin was ruining his reputation by bringing the lawsuit and he has no business being an agent, and that it would be in my best interest for me to come down on the side of the government in this matter.

GOODWYN: Crider's boss wanted him to testify he no longer thought Slaby was fit for FBI duty. But Mark Crider was having none of that.

CRIDER: I actually went back to my desk and wrote the entire thing up in case I needed it later.

GOODWYN: Crider complained to the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility, which reported it to the Inspector General's Office at the Justice Department, and with that the cat was out of the bag.

At an evidentiary hearing on June 12, Crider's boss, Special Agent in Charge Teresa Carlson, refused to answer questions as to whether she had suborned perjury by asking her subordinate to lie under oath. Carlson has been quietly removed from her post and now faces an investigation. The FBI refused to comment for this story citing the pending legal action.

As for former Army Ranger and hopeful FBI agent Justin Slaby? In his original appeal of the FBI's decision, Slaby wrote to the bureau: Despite all that has occurred, I have not lost my faith in this organization, and I believe in its mission. I just need someone out there to believe in me. His federal lawsuit for reinstatement begins Monday in Virginia. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.