Hillsborough judge gives controversial former Green Beret a break

Clay Allred : "My plan is to get back into school and back into life.”

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, FL (WFLA) – Former Green Beret Clay Allred walked into Hillsborough County’s Veterans Treatment Court Friday under house arrest and left a free man as part of his ongoing effort to complete his IT degree at USF.

“I’m beyond grateful,” Allred said after his hearing. “I’m just please to have an opportunity to move forward from this.”

Allred landed in Veterans Court last year after deliberately scaring a Pakistani-American store clerk with an assault rifle and firing shots into the air from his pistol. “He said ‘I don’t like your people’ and at that moment I thought my life was over,” former store clerk Shawn Hassan told Eight on Your Side last week.

Since then, Allred has completed all of the requirements of Veterans Court and become the focus of Judge Gregory Holder’s efforts to convince USF to open its doors to Allred and other vets who return from war with PTSD, and in Allred’s case traumatic brain injury.

“Of all the defendants that I have seen in the past 21 years I can think of no one who has performed in such exemplary fashion,” Holder said moments before terminating Allred’s house arrest. The former Green Beret remains on three years of probation, which is still a stumbling block for Allred’s entry into USF to complete the 17 credits he needs for his degree.

Hassan said Friday he can’t believe Holder gave Allred another break considering the former soldier faced the possibility of 20 years in prison for what he did to Hassan last year. “I’m speechless…It’s crazy, I’m really scared now,” Hassan wrote in a text to Eight on Your Side. “It doesn’t matter what I say. I guess I just have to wait till he screws up again.”

Last week Holder made a personal appeal to the USF Board of Trustees to bend its rules for prospective students with criminal records so that Allred and other damaged combat veterans can attend the university and “reintegrate” with society.

The USF Trustees don’t make such decisions, but administrators have said that school policy prohibits convicted felons like Allred from attending—at least while they are serving sentences such as house arrest and probation.

Holder suggested his former West Point classmate, VA Secretary Robert McDonald, has become personally interested in Allred’s case since the VA gives USF millions for veterans programs. The day after Holder addressed the Trustees McDonald sent an email that confirmed his interest in the issue.

“If a school like USF eliminates our ability to use education (GI Bill, Voc Rehab) as a way to treat a Veteran; I find that a very serious issue that I would like to discuss with the leadership of the school.” McDonald wrote.

Friday, USF spokesman Adam Freeman said the university can’t discuss individual student applications due to privacy concerns, but insisted that anyone is free to apply for admission. Freeman also included a list of rules that indicate a student applicant with Allred’s criminal record has a scant chance of admission.

Freeman cited statistics indicating that USF is dedicated to helping veterans and has that reputation nationwide. “Last month, Money magazine named USF as the number one school in the country on its ‘Great Colleges for Veterans’ list, while Military Times magazine ranked USF second in its annual ‘Best for Vets’ rankings,” Freeman wrote.

Allred’s GI Bill benefits expire in 14 months and Friday Holder underlined the urgency of his effort to enroll at USF. “Time is of the essence with respect to your return to academic life,” Holder said.

After the hearing Allred said he is applying for admission to the USF Sarasota campus but wants to finish his degree through online classes. Holder raised the possibility in a court of Allred getting VA assistance that might include a “battle buddy” who could escort him while on campus to quell any fears that USF might have about security given the violent gun incident last year.

Allred later suggested he doesn’t want to become a poster child for war-damaged veterans but insisted he very much desires a degree so he can move on with his life. “It’s paramount,” said Allred.

He’s considering the possibility of working fulltime with other veterans who suffer from PTSD to help them complete their own recovery, something he’s already doing as part of his community service requirements in Veterans Court.

”I feel shameful for my actions that night. It doesn’t reflect who I am or what’s in my heart,” Allred said. “My plan is to get back into school and back into life.”

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