Court-mar­tial charges dropped

Staff sergeant, suf­fer­ing from PTSD, re­leased from Nel­lis con­fine­ment


A Creech Air Force Base drone sen­sor op­er­a­tor has been re­leased from con­fine­ment and all charges he faced in a court-mar­tial set for June 16 have been dis­missed, his civil­ian at­tor­ney said Fri- day.

Staff Sgt. Shane R. Owens, a re­motely pi­loted air­craft sen­sor op­er­a­tor for over­seas mis­sile strikes, had been di­ag­nosed with post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der. He had been held in con­fine­ment at Nel­lis Air Force Base since March 5 and faced charges based on al­le­ga­tions of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, drug use and dis­obey­ing or­ders.

He will re­ceive an other-than-hon­or­able dis­charge but will have no crim­i­nal con­vic­tion for any­thing and is in the process of be­ing dis­charged, said his at­tor­ney Craig W. Drum­mond.

“While we looked for­ward to ad­dress- ing many is­sues re­lated to the Air Force’s al­le­ga­tions, and con­tinue to dis­pute all of the charges, we be­lieve that this is a good out­come that al­lows Staff Sergeant Owens to move for­ward with his life,” Drum­mond said in an email to the Las Ve­gas Re­view-Jour­nal.

A query seek­ing com­ment from Nel­lis and Creech of­fi­cials has been re­ceived

PTSD re­sulted from drone mis­sions with loss of life

by the 99th Air Base Wing public af­fairs team at Nel­lis who had no im­me­di­ate com­ment on Owens’ case. An email re­ply said they are work­ing to pro­vide an­swers, how­ever.

As part of the case, Drum­mond had re­quested data that the Air Force men­tioned in a re­sponse to a draft re­port by the Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­abil­ity Of­fice on ac­tions needed to strengthen man­age­ment of drone pi­lots. The re­sponse was one of seven the Depart­ment of De­fense made to the GAO’s rec­om­men­da­tions in a memo last year by John T. Park, a mem­ber of the Se­nior Ex­ec­u­tive Ser­vice, a lead­er­ship agency for trans­form­ing the gov­ern­ment.

“The Air Force has am­ple data show­ing the an­a­lyzed ef­fects of RPA pi­lots be­ing de­ployed-on-sta­tion over the last nine years,” reads the re­sponse at­tached to the April 2, 2014 memo to the GAO from Park, deputy direc­tor of force man­age­ment pol­icy for the Se­nior Ex­ec­u­tive Ser­vice.

“The stres­sors have been iden­ti­fied and dis­cussed at length and many stres­sors could likely be ad­dressed with per­son­nel so­lu­tions (in­creased crew ra­tios, as men­tioned),” reads the re­sponse.

In his email to the Re­view-Jour­nal, Drum­mond said the “‘data’ was de­nied by the pros­e­cu­tors and we were in the process of lit­i­gat­ing the is­sue with the mil­i­tary judge as to whether they would be re­quired to dis­close the data and anal­y­sis to the de­fense.”

Drum­mond had filed a writ of habeas cor­pus pe­ti­tion April 9 with U.S. Dis­trict Court in Las Ve­gas seek­ing Owens’ re­lease on grounds that a “neu­tral and de­tached” of­fi­cer had never per­formed a seven-day re­view of his con­tin­ued con­fine­ment as re­quired un­der the Uni­form Code of Mil­i­tary Jus­tice.

In the 11-page pe­ti­tion that names Sec­re­tary of the Air Force Deb­o­rah Lee James and Lt. Col. Ryan P. Keeney, com­man­der of the 15th Re­con­nais­sance Squadron, as re­spon­dents, Drum­mond claimed Owens’ com­man­ders had vi­o­lated mil­i­tary law by hold­ing him in con­fine­ment with­out pre­fer­ring charges in a timely man­ner.

He al­leged that the pretrial con­fine­ment re­view­ing of­fi­cer, Lt. Col. Erin D. Cluff, is not “neu­tral or de­tached” be­cause she is mar­ried to Col. Jim Cluff, com­man­der of the 432nd Wing at Creech, who is one of Owens’ com­man­ders and com­man­der of Keeney, the of­fi­cer who put Owens in pretrial con­fine­ment.

There is no men­tion in the pe­ti­tion, how­ever, that her hus­band, Col. Cluff, the wing com­man­der, played any role in the de­ci­sion to con­fine Owens, nor is there any­thing that in­di­cates she would have a per­sonal in­ter­est in Owens’ con­fine­ment.

The Creech base at In­dian Springs, 45 miles north­west of Las Ve­gas, is a hub for drone op­er­a­tions where pi­lots and sen­sor per­son­nel sit at com­puter con­soles to con­trol un­manned MQ-1 Preda­tor and MQ-9 Reaper air­craft via satel­lite links for over­seas com­bat op­er­a­tions. Among the du­ties of sen­sor op­er­a­tors is to con­trol laser-guided mis­sile strikes trig­gered by pi­lots in­side ground sta­tions.

The court pa­pers say that Owens “has been di­ag­nosed with Post Trau­matic Stress Dis­or­der (PTSD) re­lated to drone mis­sions in­volv­ing the loss of hu­man life.”

Ac­cord­ing to Drum­mond, Owens’ mar­riage to his wife, Ash­ley Owens, be­gan to fail late last year. Af­ter he told her of his plans to file for di­vorce, the re­la­tion­ship boiled over Feb. 20 when she al­leged that he grabbed her by the shoul­ders and threw her to the ground.

A protective or­der was is­sued against Shane Owens but on Feb. 26 a Clark County Dis­trict judge de­nied to ex­tend it af­ter Ash­ley Owens failed to ap­pear in Fam­ily Court. Con­tact Keith Rogers at krogers@re­viewjour­ or 702-383-0308. Find him on Twit­ter: @Kei­thRogers2.


Staff Sgt. Shane Owens, a sen­sor op­er­a­tor at Creech Air Force Base, is shown in a un­dated photo pro­vided by his at­tor­ney.

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