Woman says Afghan shooting suspect was "obnoxious drunk"

SAN FRANCISCO Fri Mar 23, 2012 9:22pm EDT

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A woman living near the U.S. base of a soldier accused of killing 17 Afghan civilians remembered him on Friday as an "obnoxious drunk" who pressed her hand into his crotch and picked a fight with her boyfriend.

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, 38, was charged on Friday with murdering 17 civilians and trying to kill six more on the night of March 11 near his army base in Afghanistan. His lawyer has admitted that Bales had had something to drink on that night but played it down as a factor.

Washington state police reports show that Bales had three brushes with the law over the last decade, all of which mention alcohol. The first was in 2002 and the last two were in 2008, in between his second and third tours in Iraq. He went to war a fourth time in December, to Afghanistan.

"He was an obnoxious drunk," Myra Jo Irish said by telephone on Friday, describing the night of April 5, 2008, at the Paradise Village Bowl bowling alley in Tacoma, near Bales' U.S. base, Lewis-McChord, in Washington state.

She made a report to police that night but never pressed charges.

She said Bales followed her outside when she went for a smoke. "He said 'you are beautiful' and grabbed my hand and put it on his crotch," she said. Her boyfriend asked for an apology, she remembered.

"Next thing I knew, he had my boyfriend on the ground and started wailing on him," she said. "His friends told me, 'please don't report this, cause he's married, he's drunk, and he's in the service, and that would just devastate his life.'"

Bales received several military commendations during three tours in Iraq, where he was wounded at least twice.

Since his name was released a week ago, evidence of financial trouble at home, a $1.5 million fraud judgment against him and a brokerage where he worked, and the police reports have created a complex picture of the man.

His lawyer, John Henry Browne, did not respond to a request for comment.

Mark Lindquist, the prosecutor for Washington's Pierce County, said his office did not press charges over the bowling alley brawl, because there was alcohol involved on all sides, it was a 'mutual scuffle' and there were no injuries.

Irish said on Friday that she and her boyfriend were not drunk, contradicting the police description in the 2008 report.

According to the police record, later in 2008, Bales flipped over his Ford Mustang after driving off the road and hitting a tree. One witness told police the driver smelled of alcohol. Bales ran into the woods when deputies approached him.

He later told an officer he had fallen asleep at the wheel and been "out of it" after the trauma of the accident. The Tacoma News Tribune newspaper said he received a deferred 12-month sentence.

The first police incident was in 2002, the year before his first combat tour.

He was charged with assault after becoming intoxicated at a local casino, according to a police report. Bales threatened another patron and then security guards escorted him outside and put him into a cab, the report describes the guards as saying. But Bales got back out, picked up a trash can lid and came at the guards, punching one in the chest before they tackled him.

Bales agreed to take anger-management classes, the Tacoma News has said, and the charges were dismissed.

(Reporting by Peter Henderson; Editing by David Brunnstrom)

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