Law enforcement vehicles from Sarpy County, Bellevue and the Air Force chased a 21-year-old man in a stolen blue Honda all over Offutt Air Force Base on June 4, 2012.
The driver rammed the car repeatedly into security barricades set up at the Kenney Gate, south of Highway 370, to prevent his escape.
A federal security guard hired by Offutt fired at Zachari Johnson, fearing that he would use the car to kill someone.
Johnson died from bullet wounds to the chest. A Sarpy County grand jury later ruled the shooting was justified.
The events of that day put a grim stamp on a long-standing law enforcement problem at Offutt. Because of a quirk in federal law, more than 80 acres of the base lies outside the jurisdiction of the federal security forces that patrol it.
As a result, Offutt security police must call Bellevue police or Sarpy County sheriff’s deputies if a crime occurs there, even if it’s inside Offutt’s fence.
“If an incident occurs in these areas, the Air Force can’t really do much,” said State Sen. Andrew La Grone of Gretna, who has introduced a measure, Legislative Bill 214, that would correct the situation.
Those 80 acres include some of the places where crimes are most likely to occur: the Kenney and StratCom gates, just off Fort Crook Road, used by most employees and visitors to Offutt, and four of the dorms where Offutt airmen live.
“The dividing line … crosses through two dormitory buildings and actually bisects several dormitory rooms,” Carol Ann Y. Beda, acting assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, said in a Dec. 30 letter to Gov. Pete Ricketts.
The federal government has “exclusive jurisdiction” — full control for all purposes, including law enforcement — for land that was either part of the base up until 1940, when it was an Army post known as Fort Crook, or that was acquired over the next 11 years as it became an Air Force base that was home to the Strategic Air Command.
For other land purchased later, the federal government has only “proprietary jurisdiction.” That amounts to ownership rights, explained Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov, but not complete control.
Federal law states that the federal government must explicitly state in writing that it is accepting exclusive jurisdiction. It never did so with about 60 acres near the Kenney Gate that was acquired in 1955 and 1959, or 21½ acres near the StratCom Gate purchased from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad in 1997.
Polikov said the Offutt, Bellevue and Sarpy County law enforcement agencies work well together. Fortunately, crimes in the area are relatively uncommon, especially life-or-death situations like the 2012 car chase.
“It’s not an everyday occurrence,” he said. “Historically, it’s something we’ve lived with all along. We’ve worked it out through cooperative effort.”
La Grone, who serves on the Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, said he introduced LB 214 at the request of the Air Force and the governor. If it passes, the state would give up full control of the tracts to the federal government.
The committee held a brief public hearing Jan. 30. La Grone said the bill advanced on a unanimous vote.
Although there’s no apparent opposition to LB 214, the limits of the legislative calendar mean the session could end without the bill passing.
“I’ll do whatever I can to make sure it gets past the finish line,” La Grone said. “It’s really important to show the Air Force we’re committed to helping the men and women who serve.”