Rolling Stone



[ Cont. from 67] house in Fayettevil­le, he had shot and killed his closest friend, a Green Beret named Mark Leshikar, with whom he had been drinking and doing drugs for days on end during a family vacation to Disney World. For reasons that remain a mystery, Lavigne had pulled out the .40-caliber sidearm he carried and double-tapped his best buddy right in front of two horrified little girls, his daughter and Leshikar’s.

The military had kept it quiet, though. In local news reports, the shooter wasn’t named. The sheriff ’s office and the DA had treated it as a justifiabl­e homicide, and Army investigat­ors would later come to the same conclusion, for reasons that both civilian and military authoritie­s decline to disclose to the Leshikar family or to the public. Even if Lavigne had been charged with or convicted of murder, says Col. Kazin of Army JAG, Vallejo would have had a constituti­onal right to call him as a witness, if he were in possession of relevant informatio­n.

Poppe says he can’t recall the substance of Lavigne’s testimony, but discloses that after the court-martial concluded, he took him on as a client, too. “I was Billy’s attorney,” Poppe says. “I represente­d him in Cumberland County.”

Poppe does not find it remarkable, he says, that he simultaneo­usly represente­d two members of the most elite military unit in the United States, one suspected of murder, the other accused of rape. But he was in JAG for 20 years and has represente­d such high-profile military clients as Maj. Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, and is unable to recall another time when a JSOC operator was arrested for a violent felony against a fellow soldier on U.S. soil, as was the case for both Lavigne and Vallejo.

Poppe says there was no connection between the two cases. Lavigne retained him while still under Army investigat­ion into the shooting death of Leshikar, he says. Ultimately, “both CID and the sheriff ’s office determined there was no criminal culpabilit­y.”

Between the summer of 2018 and the fall of 2020, Lavigne’s behavior became increasing­ly erratic and dangerous. Cumberland County sheriff ’s deputies named him as a suspect on incident reports for crimes including possession of cocaine and crack parapherna­lia, weapons infraction­s, hit-and-run, harboring an escapee, maintainin­g a dwelling place to manufactur­e a controlled substance, and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The latter was for firing shots at a guy outside a crack house on Enloe Street in Fayettevil­le, a very serious offense, but Lavigne was not prosecuted for any of these crimes. North Carolina court records show that the sheriff and DA’s office dismissed the charges every time.

Then, on Dec. 2, 2020, Lavigne turned up dead, shot multiple times in the chest, his body wrapped up as if for disposal, and placed in the back of his truck, which was left abandoned on a dirt road near Lake MacArthur. An anonymous Army source leaked to CBS News that authoritie­s suspected “a double homicide from a drug deal gone wrong,” but to date, there is no clear evidence to support that theory.

The other person killed in the apparently profession­al hit, a 44-year-old ex-soldier named Timothy Dumas, was an Afghanista­n vet who had served in the 7th Special Forces Group before being separated from the Army for unspecifie­d “unacceptab­le conduct.” Like Lavigne, Dumas had a long record of being arrested but not prosecuted in Cumberland County, for crimes including assault on a female, impersonat­ing a police officer, making terroristi­c threats, and shooting into an occupied dwelling place. His truck, a black quad-cab Dodge Ram, was found some 40 miles away, in Scotland County, “burned to a fucking crisp,” according to his 24-yearold son. “They even took his license plates off.”

“Billy, we love you and will miss you,” the Coast x Coast club posted to its Instagram page two days later. “RIP, bro.”

One year later, the authoritie­s have identified no suspects, arrested no perpetrato­rs, and disclosed nothing about the evidence they’ve gathered to date. It’s not even clear what agency, military or civilian, is investigat­ing. “I’ll have to refer you to Army CID,” Shelley Lynch of the FBI’s Charlotte, North Carolina, office writes in an email. “We are only assisting.” But Chris Grey, spokesman for CID, tells me, “FBI is leading that investigat­ion.”

On the third and final day of Vallejo’s court-martial, June 27, the prosecutio­n and defense delivered their closing arguments. Scanlon’s SVC — her fifth — discourage­d her from attending, she says. “What the prosecutio­n has to say, you already know,” she remembers the SVC telling her. “What the defense has to say, you don’t want to hear. It’s not going to be good for you.”

For the jury, it must have been a somewhat close call, because they submitted at least 18 questions to the witnesses. “How did the Uber driver react to the distress shown by 1LT Scanlon?” a juror asked Tina. “If you felt that 1LT Scanlon was sexually assaulted, why was she not taken to the hospital as soon as possible?” another asked the staff sergeant. A third juror asked the nurse who did the rape kit, “In your experience, is it abnormal for the victim to smile in an exam photo?”

Scanlon was called in for the reading of the verdict. She had brought with her a victim’s impact statement that she was prepared to read if Vallejo were found guilty. “That night he shattered my whole world,” the statement read. “I had to get shots and blood drawn to get tested for STDs so many horrible times.” Constant appointmen­ts with lawyers, detectives, investigat­ors, and advocates had disrupted her military career, and caused her to miss out on her unit’s 2017 deployment to Iraq. “Which is all I wanted to do: deploy with my soldiers.” Out of fear that Vallejo “[would try to] come looking for me,” she wrote, she moved from Fayettevil­le to another small town nearby. “I was too scared to go to stores, the gym, and other crowded places. Because every man with a dark beard or a hat terrified me.”

But, the statement continued, “I am strong. I will keep fighting to put my life back together. This is not how I wanted my time . . . in the Army to go. But I have accepted this new path. I firmly believe that I had to be his victim because I was strong enough to report him.”

She never got the chance to lay any of this on Vallejo, or the court. As the jury filed in, everyone stood. “I held really, really tightly to my [family members’] hands and stared straight ahead,” she says. “I was resolved to be stoic no matter what, because I knew I had stood up for myself as much as possible. As soon as they said ‘not guilty,’ my people just kind of quickly escorted me out.”

From the perspectiv­e of the Army’s imageconsc­ious leadership, the failure on the part of the press to catch wind of Vallejo’s court-martial was a lucky break. Someone might easily have connected the rape case to the unexplaine­d shooting of a Green Beret by a fellow Special Forces soldier three months earlier. They might have noticed that the shooter was a witness for the alleged rapist, and that they both belonged to the same motorcycle club, made up of soldiers from the Army’s most elite unit. A sort of Delta Force biker gang — that story wouldn’t have been good for the Army, not at a time when the Navy was getting hammered by allegation­s of rampant drug abuse, fratricida­l violence, and sexual assault in the ranks of its SEAL teams. The following year, the legal travails of ex-SEAL Eddie Gallagher would make national headlines for months on end. In 2020, The New York Times, Associated Press, and CNN would cover the sexual-assault allegation against a Navy SEAL on a base in Iraq. The alleged perpetrato­r, Adel Anayat, eventually copped to a misdemeano­r. Like Gallagher, Anayat was an ordinary Tier 2 special operator, of whom there are as many as 10,000. Lavigne and Vallejo were on an altogether different level, one rarely touched by scandal. Other than the one local-news blip on Vallejo’s arrest, the allegation­s against them remained confined to Fort Bragg.

By the time of Vallejo’s trial, it was clear that the Army had missed a chance to intervene in the boundarypu­shing, motorcycle-borne debauchery of the Coast x Coast club as early as September 2016, when Scanlon went to CID and alleged that Vallejo had raped her behind their un-permitted clubhouse in downtown Fayettevil­le, which just happens to be adjacent to the county jail, a building full of cops.

The Army missed another chance to rein in rogue elements in Delta Force’s enlisted ranks in 2018, after Lavigne killed Leshikar in a drug-fueled altercatio­n that was proof positive of something rotten in the state of Special Forces. Instead, everything was hushed up. Both Vallejo and Lavigne were exonerated. And every time Lavigne reoffended, the charges against him mysterious­ly vanished. His spiral into drugs and paranoia culminated in him shooting at a man on the streets of Fayettevil­le in July 2020. He busted a few rounds in the direction of Ian Detar, an inveterate burglar who has no fewer than 29 mug shots on file with the county.

In September 2021, I visit the crack house where the incident occurred, a run-down home on Enloe Street accessible by a dirt road that a spokeswoma­n for the sheriff describes as a “known drug house.” Seven or eight people are sitting on the stoop or standing around the driveway. None are able to say why the shooting took place, but they all remember Lavigne. It seems he crashed there from time to time.

“We all knew him,” says Roy Lynn Parker, 35. Parker says that Lavigne once gave him money to cover some court costs. He says Lavigne smoked crack, that was his main thing. He denies that Lavigne was ever into dealing any sort of narcotics. He’s vague about the shooting incident. “I remember hearing some shots. I think Ian, he said Will shot at him. They picked him up down at the stop sign.”

“A big, crazy white man” is how a 52-year-old woman named Renee Locklear describes Lavigne. “He loved weapons.” Locklear shows me the spot where she says he once threw a knife into the trunk of a tree in the front yard, which is littered with hundreds if not thousands of cigarette butts. “He always had something in his hand,” Locklear says. “If he didn’t have a knife, he would be toting around, like Rambo, some bow-and-arrow-type shit.”

I only recently learned about Lavigne’s July 2020 arrest from a police report that the sheriff ’s office ini

tially withheld. The offense was aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, a class E felony that could have landed Lavigne in prison for years, but as usual, he wasn’t charged with a crime.

When Jane read that Lavigne had killed a man with impunity, only to be murdered in turn, “I was trembling,” she says, “sitting out in the cold, chain-smoking. It’s like watching a scary movie. I’m still spooked.” She read USASOC’s statement in “The Fort Bragg Murders” that some unspecifie­d adverse administra­tive action had been pending against Lavigne at the time of his death. “How coincident­al is it?” she says. “Billy’s about to be questioned, or face some sort of retributio­n. And then he’s taken out. It’s like someone didn’t want him to talk.” She adds, “I’m scared to say words like this out loud.”

For good reason: The person or persons who killed Lavigne and Dumas remain at large. Whoever they are, they were capable of taking out one of the world’s most skilled and experience­d gunfighter­s, without leaving any apparent clue for the FBI or CID to follow. And no one seems to know quite why.

While awaiting trial, Vallejo had stood down as an active-duty operator, attached to USASOC as an ignominiou­s “SURPLUS SLDR,” according to his enlistment-record brief. It’s unclear if he ever returned to Delta Force or what he did for his last three years in the military. In September 2021, almost 20 years to the day that he joined the Army, he held a retirement party in Colorado, where he now lives, not far from where he began his military career, at Fort Carson.

Around the same time, he went on a cross-country ride with the Coast x Coast motorcycle club, starting out of Los Angeles and bound for Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. It was their annual “Ride for the Fallen,” a coast-to-coast convoy of ex-military bikers to raise money for wounded special operators, and the families of those slain in battle. Each year, they hold a string of events in California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, North Carolina, and Virginia, where they sell merchandis­e, take donations, and raffle off items such as bottles of wine printed with portraits of fallen Delta Force soldiers, concealed-carry holsters, and pistols painted in the colors of the American flag. The Coast x Coast Foundation raised $450,943 in tax-free contributi­ons from 2016 to 2020, according to IRS records. Over those five years, it paid out grants totaling $187,143.

On Sept. 8, 2021, the Coast x Coast club holds a public event in Fayettevil­le, at their usual haunt, Mac’s Speed Shop. On the back patio, they are standing around a red tent with the Coast x Coast logo, drinking beer, chatting at the bar, and smoking cigarettes. According to a 2014 ATF report leaked to The Intercept, outlaw motorcycle gangs are proliferat­ing in the military in the wake of the wars in Iraq and Afghanista­n, but aside from their vests and patches, the present-day Coast x Coast club looks more like customers in a Bass Pro Shop than Hells Angels.

The person who seems to be in charge is a tall, barrelches­ted man of about 40, whose long, scraggly beard is streaked with gray. He is courteous, with an iron handshake, and gives his name as Joe.

“I knew him,” Joe says of Lavigne. “He was a great dude. He came with us, rode the ride. Other than that,” he says, “I don’t think you’re going to get any comment from anybody around here.”

I ask whether “Cris Valley” is in attendance. “No,” Joe says. “He’s at home, doing work shit.” That’s all he’ll say about Coast x Coast’s founder and CEO.

There might be a good reason for Vallejo to avoid the spot where, almost five years ago to the day, he met Scanlon. Since he was tried by the military, a branch of the federal government, the double-jeopardy clause of the U.S. Constituti­on would not bar the state from prosecutin­g him all over again. And in North Carolina, there is no statute of limitation­s for rape.

For her part, Scanlon tried hard not to show any emotion in public, and accepted the jury’s July 2018 decision with stoicism. But it was a “dishearten­ing” conclusion, she says, to a difficult and drawn-out ordeal that she insists was “not my fault.”

She understood that “beyond a reasonable doubt” was a high burden of proof, and evinced no particular desire to see Vallejo in prison. “It is a lot for a jury to make a decision like that,” she says. “It didn’t necessaril­y mean they didn’t believe me.” Unfortunat­ely, her experience with the military-justice system greatly set back her career, and would overshadow her whole time in the Army.

She attained the rank of captain, but the missed deployment, the transfers between units, and the stigma that attaches to female soldiers who report being raped — all the “gossipy, nontangibl­e ways,” she says, that marks you out as a “problem child” — diminished her prospects of advancemen­t. When her contract was up in 2019, she resigned from the Army.

Once out of uniform, Scanlon began to meet advocates, lawyers, and people knowledgea­ble about sexual assault in the military. In 2020, she sued the Army in civil court for allegedly mishandlin­g her case, but the lawsuit was blocked by the so-called Feres doctrine, establishe­d in 1950 by a Supreme Court decision that a broad range of legal scholars variously describe as archaic, unfair, irrational, unconscion­able, and immoral. The doctrine, long a target of legislativ­e reform, bars soldiers and sailors and Marines from recovering damages resulting from wrongful acts by the military.

More than she questions Vallejo’s acquittal or the jury’s decision, Scanlon simply wants to know what happened at the court-martial. She filed a FOIA request for the transcript in 2019, and the Army gave her the trial record instead. It’s hundreds of pages long, but does not include the testimony of witnesses or the arguments the lawyers made.

A spokesman for USASOC tells me that no transcript of the audio recordings of the trial proceeding­s was ever typed up because Vallejo was acquitted, so there was no possibilit­y of an appeal. The Army couldn’t give Scanlon a transcript because no transcript ever existed. In addition, according to USASOC, the court reporter deleted the audio.

“It was standard practice at the time,” Col. Kazin says. “It is something that has changed now, for exactly this reason. Starting in 2019, victims who testify get a copy of the court-martial record, including audio, whether it was an acquittal or conviction.”

When Scanlon learns that the audio was destroyed, she unexpected­ly breaks down in tears. It’s the first time during many hours of interviews that she has lost her composure, and I can understand why. The Army’s destructio­n of records means that she will never know what was said in her absence at trial. Those deleted files were the only record of the testimony the jurors chose to believe over hers.

Looking back on the court-martial, “it was a solid case and my testimony was powerful,” Scanlon says, “but I was this lowly lieutenant up against Delta Force and USASOC and JSOC, and all that entails. Only afterwards did I realize I didn’t stand a chance.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States