Minot case ground zero for mil­i­tary gen­der wars

Air­man ac­cused of hit­ting on women faces worse pun­ish­ment than Bergdahl

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY ROWAN SCAR­BOR­OUGH

He is an award-win­ning com­bat pho­tog­ra­pher who stands ac­cused of try­ing to pick up women in the pub­lic af­fairs of­fice at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, and for that pros­e­cu­tors wanted to put him in prison for 130 years.

The pros­e­cu­to­rial zeal was so great that an Air Force of­fi­cer ap­pointed to in­ves­ti­gate the case said the piled-up charges were com­bined to “ar­ti­fi­cially ex­ag­ger­ate the crim­i­nal­ity of the ac­cused,” who of­ten was sim­ply “so­cially mal­adroit and crass.”

This is a glimpse into the new U.S. Armed Forces and its gen­der wars. It is a slice of mil­i­tary life stem­ming from the Pen­tagon’s or­der in 2013 to erase all sex­ual ha­rass­ment and, to en­force it, staff the ranks with an ad­vo­cacy bu­reau­cracy to em­power vic­tims and make sure com­plaints are filed.

The ac­cused is Tech. Sgt. Aaron D. All­mon II. The 39-year-old ar­rived at Minot, a nu­clear arse­nal on the north­ern edge of the con­ti­nen­tal United States, to teach oth­ers as one of the Air Force’s best at cap­tur­ing war in pho­to­graphs.

What he wit­nessed in Iraq and Afghanista­n stalked him all the way to North Dakota, along with di­ag­noses of post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der and al­co­hol abuse. He car­ries prescripti­on drugs to fight off night­mares and ex­cru­ci­at­ing back pain. His supporters say the stigma of be­ing an ac­cused sex­ual ha­rasser is so deep-seated that Minot top brass iso­lated him and de­lib­er­ately tried to block med­i­cal care.

Sgt. All­mon, who de­nies wrong­do­ing, was sched­uled to go on trial late last week. The set­ting was to be a gen­eral court-mar­tial, the mil­i­tary’s most se­vere, a felony arena. He is charged with un­wanted sex­ual con­tact with four women: three Air Force and one civil­ian. The case does not in­volve rape or what the pub­lic might con­sider overt sex­ual as­sault or what could be de­fined as fondling.

A Wash­ing­ton Times ex­am­i­na­tion shows that, over a 14-month span, the women’s ac­cu­sa­tions, in to­tal, amount to three kisses and six touches, plus a se­ries of re­ported in­ap­pro­pri­ate com­ments of a sex­ual na­ture. If the mar­ried Sgt. All­mon did what the women said, he was taste­lessly hit­ting on them.

Sgt. All­mon’s sis­ter, Lisa A. Roper, does not be­lieve the women. The busi­ness ex­ec­u­tive in San An­to­nio, Texas, is her brother’s fiercest de­fender. She es­ti­mates she will spend $200,000 on his le­gal de­fense, which in­cludes a for­mer sher­iff’s deputy as in­ves­ti­ga­tor, a civil­ian lawyer and a for­mer Army judge ad­vo­cate who took the case pro bono. Sgt. All­mon is also rep­re­sented by an Air Force judge ad­vo­cate.

“I want you to understand how women can de­stroy a man,” said Ms. Roper. “It was out and out vin­dic­tive­ness set up to de­stroy a man who didn’t do what they wanted. A group of young women who are brand new in the mil­i­tary and be­cause they didn’t get their way they set out to de­stroy a man of 19 years in the Air Force.”

Maj. Jamie Humphries, a Minot pub­lic af­fairs of­fi­cer, said the Air Force does not tol­er­ate any form of sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

“Sex­ual ha­rass­ment or as­sault of any kind in our ser­vice is un­ac­cept­able and sim­ply not tol­er­ated,” he said. “I’ve never been in a USAF unit state­side or de­ployed where it was ac­cepted. Does it hap­pen? Sure. Is it un­ac­cept­able? Ab­so­lutely. When par­ents/ guardians send their loved ones off to Ba­sic Mil­i­tary Train­ing, they ex­pect guys like me will care for them, guide them and men­tor them to the best of my abil­ity. That’s my No. 1 job, and the of­fi­cers I know take that re­spon­si­bil­ity very se­ri­ously.”

The Times’ ex­am­i­na­tion pro­duced a pic­ture of the Minot pub­lic af­fairs of­fice that was at times dis­or­ga­nized and needed dis­ci­pline.

The Times viewed a home­made video of staff mem­bers mov­ing fur­ni­ture in De­cem­ber last year. The “F” word was thrown around freely. Faces were made into the cam­era. A man re­ferred to a fe­male ser­vice mem­ber as a “don­key.” An en­listed man made fun of Sgt. All­mon’s ail­ments by shak­ing a bot­tle of pills like a rat­tle.

‘Ar­ti­fi­cially ex­ag­ger­ate the crim­i­nal­ity’

As Sgt. All­mon was en­ter­ing his sec­ond year at Minot in May 2013, De­fense Sec­re­tary Chuck Hagel de­clared war on sex­ual abuse in the ranks. He el­e­vated the of­fense as a threat to na­tional se­cu­rity. He put ev­ery com­mand on no­tice that his goal was to elim­i­nate the of­fense. The gen­der wars, if not start­ing that day, were en­ter­ing an es­ca­la­tion.

“Sex­ual as­sault is a de­spi­ca­ble crime and one of the most se­ri­ous chal­lenges fac­ing this depart­ment,” Mr. Hagel told re­porters. “It’s a threat to the safety and the wel­fare of our peo­ple and the health, rep­u­ta­tion and trust of this institutio­n. … This depart­ment may be near­ing a stage where the fre­quency of this crime and the per­cep­tion that there is tol­er­ance of it could very well un­der­mine our abil­ity to ef­fec­tively carry out the mis­sion.” Next, he warned the ac­cused. “We need cul­tural change where ev­ery ser­vice mem­ber is treated with dig­nity and re­spect, where all al­le­ga­tions of in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior are treated with se­ri­ous­ness, where vic­tims’ pri­vacy is pro­tected, where by­standers are mo­ti­vated to in­ter­vene, and where of­fend­ers know that they will be held ac­count­able by strong and ef­fec­tive sys­tems of jus­tice,” he said.

De­fense at­tor­neys said at the time that re­marks such as Mr. Hagel’s, and sim­i­lar state­ments from com­man­ders, would make it dif­fi­cult to im­panel mil­i­tary ju­rors who did not think it their mis­sion to con­vict peo­ple.

Sgt. All­mon is now fac­ing that mil­i­tary jus­tice sys­tem.

The Times in­ves­ti­gated the All­mon case not to as­sess guilt or in­no­cence. The trial prom­ises to be a se­ries of “he said, she said.” (Sgt. All­mon de­nies say­ing many of the things at­trib­uted to him.) The Times wanted to ex­am­ine one ma­jor bat­tle, in a North Dakota court­room, in the broader global war Mr. Hagel an­nounced more than two years ago.

What strikes Sgt. All­mon’s supporters from the start is the fer­vor with which Air Force Of­fice of Spe­cial In­ves­ti­ga­tions and pros­e­cu­tors went af­ter him.

When the Air Force con­vened a pre­trial hear­ing, known as an Ar­ti­cle 32, in De­cem­ber, the gov­ern­ment had stacked so many charges against the en­listed man that, if con­victed, he faced over a cen­tury in prison.

“I can­not fathom how this got to the level this got to,” Ms. Roper said.

On Sgt. All­mon’s le­gal team is Jef­frey Ad­di­cott, a for­mer Army judge ad­vo­cate who is now a law pro­fes­sor at St. Mary’s Univer­sity in San An­to­nio. The lead civil­ian de­fender is Vir­ginia Her­mosa, who prac­tices law in Austin and has served as a pros­e­cu­tor for the Texas at­tor­ney gen­eral.

Mr. Ad­di­cott is also di­rec­tor of the school’s Cen­ter for Ter­ror­ism Law from which he goes to bat for ser­vice mem­bers, pro bono, who he be­lieves are treated un­fairly by the mil­i­tary jus­tice sys­tem.

In the All­mon case, he ex­presses as­ton­ish­ment that the Air Force is try­ing him in a felony court in­stead of seek­ing other ad­min­is­tra­tive or lesser ju­di­cial op­tions. As a com­par­i­son, he notes that the hear­ing of­fi­cer in the case of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who is charged with the se­ri­ous of­fense of de­ser­tion for aban­don­ing his bud­dies on the battlefiel­d, rec­om­mended a spe­cial court­mar­tial, the low­est level, for mis­de­meanors.

“The full weight of the mil­i­tary chain of com­mand has come down on Aaron be­cause the chain of com­mand has aban­doned jus­tice and elected ex­pe­di­ency,” Mr. Ad­di­cott said.

“Be­cause of the hy­per­sen­si­tiv­ity as­so­ci­ated with real sex­ual as­sault cases, the Air Force in par­tic­u­lar has over­re­acted against Aaron in a man­ner that is ab­so­lutely an in­jus­tice but is also de­grad­ing the es­prit de corps of unit co­he­sion all across the mil­i­tary. Even as­sum­ing all the charges are true, which they are not, this con­duct as charged would war­rant non­ju­di­cial pun­ish­ment, not the high­est level of ac­tion at a gen­eral court-mar­tial where Aaron could lose all his re­tire­ment ben­e­fits and go to jail.”

Mr. Ad­di­cott’s view has an ally, of sorts, in Lt. Col. Bren­don K. Tukey, the in­ves­tiga­tive of­fi­cer who presided over the Ar­ti­cle 32 pre­trial hear­ing where the four ac­cusers tes­ti­fied. Sgt. All­mon did not tes­tify, nor did he put up a de­fense.

Col. Tukey is a vet­eran of the mil­i­tary’s gen­der wars. He was the hear­ing of­fi­cer in 2014 for a sex­ual as­sault case at the Air Force Acad­emy in Colorado Springs. The woman tes­ti­fied that she was asleep in the male’s cadet’s room and woke up to find him rap­ing her.

“If there was some other dis­po­si­tion short of court-mar­tial, could you sup­port it?” Col. Tukey asked the woman, ac­cord­ing to The Gazette news­pa­per. “Sure,” she said. The Air Force de­clined to say what ac­tion Col. Tukey rec­om­mended. In the end, the crim­i­nal charges were dis­missed against the male cadet, who faced ad­min­is­tra­tive ac­tions that the Air Force also re­fused to dis­close.

For Sgt. All­mon, Col. Tukey scolded the pros­e­cu­tion in his post-hear­ing rec­om­men­da­tion.

“Given the sheer vol­ume of charges in this case, and the ap­par­ent ten­dency of that vol­ume to ar­ti­fi­cially ex­ag­ger­ate the crim­i­nal­ity of the ac­cused, it is en­tirely pos­si­ble that … the trial judge will sim­ply dis­miss the of­fend­ing spec­i­fi­ca­tions,” he wrote.

He also wrote, “The charg­ing scheme ex­ag­ger­ates the crim­i­nal­ity of the ac­cused (as charged the ac­cused faces 20 spec­i­fi­ca­tions car­ry­ing a max­i­mum pun­ish­ment in­clud­ing 130 years of con­fine­ment) for no real pur­pose.”

“In many of the in­di­vid­ual spec­i­fi­ca­tions,” he wrote, “it could be ar­gued that the ac­cused was not so much mo­ti­vated by sex or a de­sire to hu­mil­i­ate or de­grade as sim­ply be­ing so­cially mal­adroit and crass.”

Still, he con­cluded, “Hav­ing heard the wit­nesses and ex­am­ined the ev­i­dence pre­sented at the Ar­ti­cle 32 in­ves­ti­ga­tion, I con­clude that gen­er­ally speak­ing, prob­a­ble cause ex­ists to be­lieve that Sgt. All­mon en­gaged in the con­duct in the charges.”

Writ­ing about one of the women, who said Sgt. All­mon moved her shorts up to look at her tat­too and touched her back, Col. Tukey wrote, “As with the other vic­tim wit­nesses, I found her tes­ti­mony gen­er­ally cred­i­ble and found no mo­tive on her part to fab­ri­cate her al­le­ga­tions.”

Though Col. Tukey crit­i­cized the pros­e­cu­tion, he rec­om­mended a re­me­dial way to help win a con­vic­tion at trial.

He con­densed and rewrote the charge and then rec­om­mended the high­est court­mar­tial pos­si­ble to what the mil­i­tary calls the con­ven­ing author­ity. In this case, it is Maj. Gen. Richard Clark, the 8th Air Force com­man­der. Sgt. All­mon faces a max­i­mum penalty if con­victed of 15 years in prison, loss of all re­tire­ment ben­e­fits, re­duc­tion to the low­est en­listed rank and a dis­hon­or­able dis­charge.

Mr. Ad­di­cott, Sgt. All­mon’s le­gal ad­viser, said crit­i­ciz­ing the case, but then push­ing for the high­est court-mar­tial, shows the grip that sex­ual abuse ac­cu­sa­tions ex­ert on the mil­i­tary ju­di­cial sys­tem.

“The role the Ar­ti­cle 32 of­fi­cer is to make ob­jec­tive find­ings and rec­om­men­da­tions to the con­ven­ing author­ity putting aside all the in­evitable ‘noise’ as­so­ci­ated with any given crim­i­nal charge,” he said. “Sadly, he suc­cumbed to the noise, which in this case in­volves the shrill screams of ex­pe­di­ency. If noth­ing else, even a cur­sory re­view of the 32 of­fi­cer’s re­port demon­strates how deep the in­sid­i­ous­ness of po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness has pen­e­trated our mil­i­tary and its jus­tice sys­tem.”


Tech. Sgt. Aaron D. All­mon II, who faces a court-mar­tial Mon­day, could be sen­tenced to 130 years in prison.

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