Widening Sex Scandal Rocks Lackland Air Force Base In Texas

June 26, 2012

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS – From a chapel pulpit on Lackland Air Force Base, where every American airman reports for basic training, Col. Glenn Palmer delivered his first order to nearly 600 recruits seated in the pews: If you’re sexually harassed or assaulted, tell someone.

“My job is to give you a safe, effective training environment,” Palmer said firmly.

What the colonel did not mention directly in his recent address was a widening sex scandal that has rocked the base, one of the nation’s busiest military training centers. Allegations that male instructors had sex with, and in one case raped, female trainees have led to criminal charges against four men. Charges against others are possible.

The most serious accusations surround an Air Force staff sergeant scheduled to face a court-martial in July on charges that include rape and multiple counts of aggravated sexual assault. The other three defendants were charged with lesser crimes ranging from sexual misconduct to adultery. All of the defendants were assigned to turn raw recruits into airmen in eight weeks of basic training.

A two-star general is now investigating alongside a separate criminal probe, which military prosecutors say could sweep up more airmen. Advocates for female service members and members of Congress have started taking notice.

“It’s a pretty big scandal the Air Force is having to deal with at this point,” said Greg Jacob, a former Marine infantry officer and policy director of the Service Women’s Action Network. “It’s pretty substantial in its scope.”

Yet there are signs the Air Force still doesn’t have a handle on the full depth of the problem. Staff Sgt. Peter Vega-Maldonado pleaded guilty earlier this month to having sex with a female trainee and struck a plea deal for 90 days’ confinement. Then he acknowledged being involved with a total of 10 trainees – a number previously unknown to investigators.

On Friday, after months of embarrassing disclosures, the head of the Air Force’s training command ordered Maj. Gen. Margaret H. Woodward to lead an independent investigation. That same day, the Air Force gave reporters rare access to Lackland’s instructional headquarters in an effort to show there was nothing to hide.

The headquarters facility is where Lackland trains the people who train recruits. Inside one small classroom, three women and two men were lectured on the importance of having a moral compass while watching a slide presentation titled “Integrity First.”

Lackland has about 475 instructors for the nearly 36,000 airmen who will graduate this year. That’s about 85 percent of what Lackland would consider a full roster of instructors, a demanding job that requires airmen to work longer hours than most for four years, at the expense of family and personal time. The Air Force recently launched a smartphone app to help recruit instructors. Topping a page of frequently asked questions is whether the divorce rate for instructors really is higher. (The Air Force says no.)

Palmer said that a slight shortage in instructors has not lowered the standards for applicants. In response to the allegations, he said instructor training is being revamped and that he was accountable for problems within the training wing.

Leaders of the instructor program, however, said the responsibility falls on the accused.

“A person sitting in that seat, they’re going to do what they’re going to do when no one is watching,” said Master Sgt. Greg Pendleton, who oversees the training. “That’s across the board. That’s just them. When we’re outside this door or outside these walls, there are individuals that have their own personal values.”

So widespread is the fallout that Lackland halted operations for an entire day in March to survey about 5,900 trainees about whether they had seen or been a victim of sexual misconduct.

It was a highly unusual move for a vast 15-square-mile base that runs with relentless efficiency. A new class of airmen graduates every Friday for 50 of the 52 weeks in the year. At first, Palmer, commander of the 737th training wing, said he wasn’t sure that halting training was even possible.

Airman Andrea Madison, a new graduate who was in basic training at the height of the investigation at Lackland, said she never felt uncomfortable with her instructors.

“They want to make sure no foul play is happening, no one is taking advantage of us,” said Madison, of Columbus, Ohio.

Last week, one commander of a Lackland training squadron caught up in the sex scandal was dismissed after the Air Force lost confidence in his leadership. Col. Polly Kenny, 2nd Air Force Staff, said the dismissal was not directly related to the sexual misconduct investigation.

Nearly three dozen instructors at Lackland have also been removed in the past year, but the Air Force will not say how many lost their jobs as a result of the investigation that began last fall, only that the majority of dismissals were unrelated.

The first sexual misconduct allegations at Lackland surfaced a year ago against Staff Sgt. Luis Walker, who is charged with 28 counts.

Walker, the only instructor who has been accused of sexually assaulting another airman, faces life in prison if convicted. His civilian attorney, Joseph Esparza, has declined to speak with reporters and did not return multiple calls for comment.

Sexual assault victims are reassigned and can apply for a “humanitarian discharge” from the military, but Lackland civilian spokeswoman Collen McGhee said she did not know whether those affected by this case had done so.

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Gadsden County Florida Deputy Sheriff Deric Mordica Arrested And Charged With Sexual Assault On An Inmate

June 7, 2012

QUINCY, FLORIDA – Authorities with the Gadsden County sheriff’s Office says a deputy has been arrested after an alleged sexual assault.

According to Public Information Officer Ulysses Jenkins, Detention Deputy Deric Mordica surrendered to GCSO authorities after a warrant was issued for his arrest. We’re told he turned himself in at the end of May.

Mordica is accused of having sex with an inmate who was being housed at the Gadsden County Jail.

“We must abide by same laws that we are sworn to enforce and will act upon any violation of such,” said Gadsden County Sheriff Morris Young. “We will continue to provide professional law enforcement services to this community with the integrity that the citizens deserve.”

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Milwaukee Police Officers Conducted Illegal Strip Searches And Body Cavity Searches – And Of Course Assaulted Those Who Resisted

May 30, 2012

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN – Seven officers and a supervisor at the Milwaukee police department have had their badges taken away after allegations surfaced that police have been conducting body cavity searches on suspects with no authority to do so.

Reports of officers arresting suspects then subjecting them to cavity searches first surfaced in local media in March. On Monday, after getting access to a police report, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that officers allegedly performed these searches on a routine basis.

One Milwaukee officer, Michael Vagnini, “had a reputation” for forcing suspects he believed had drugs in their body cavities to bend over for him, said defense attorney Alex Cossi, who handled a July 2011 case that alleges Vagnini searched his client and another suspect in the booking room.

“This was not a rogue happenstance. This was a tacit acceptance of strip searches without proper procedures or supervision,” Cossi told The Journal Sentinel.

Vagnini found suspected cocaine “between (their) butt cheeks,” the police report said.

Strip searches, which Wisconsin state law defines as searching “a detained person’s genitals, pubic area, buttock or anus, or a detained female person’s breast,” can only be performed by a doctor, physician’s assistant or registered nurse. The state law requires written permission before a strip search is conducted, unless there’s probable cause to believe the suspect is hiding a weapon.

Cossi said his client was not provided with written documents before Vagnini performed the cavity search, which is a strip search involving penetration, on him. Because improper tactics were used to find the cocaine, the drug dealing charge against Cossi’s client was thrown out, The Journal Sentinel reported.

It’s not clear how many allegations of cavity searches the Police Department is facing.

“A number of people came forward so that we have many more complaints than we certainly started out with,” Milwaukee police Chief Edward Flynn said at a news conference Wednesday on April 11. “Of those complaints, I’d say a significant majority of them are of a very similar nature, which indicates that we have more people to talk to than we initially had.”

An improper strip search carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000, according to Wisconsin law.

Vagnini, six other officers and a supervisor, Sgt. Jason Mucha, have had their badges and guns taken away while the department investigates the claims.

In March, an alleged victim came forward to speak to NBC’s TMJ-4 to talk about his claim, which he said happened when he was only 15.

‘They slammed me on the ground’

Kevin Freeman Jr. told TMJ-4 he and his friends were violated during a traffic stop in December.

“When they searched me they eased their hands right between my butt. I tried to reach back and soon as I tried to reach back to stop them, they slammed me on the ground,” Freeman said.

It’s illegal to conduct a body cavity search outside, where people other than the one conducting the search could see it taking place.

Milwaukee police spokeswoman Anne Schwartz told msnbc.com she could not comment on the matter since it was a pending investigation. Police chief Edward Flynn said in a news conference in March the cavity search complaints go back a couple of years. The department’s internal investigation will determine whether searches violated department policy, state law, or both, The Journal Sentinel said.

Improperly conducted body searches can be construed under Wisconsin law as sexual assaults because of their invasive nature. It’s not clear how much penetration allegedly occurred during the searches.

John Birdsall, a Milwaukee defense attorney, said that if the claims are true, police are abusing their authority.

“One thing is clear, if they’re doing rectal searches in the field, that’s just illegal,” he told the Journal Sentinel. “Clothes or no clothes, you can’t do a body cavity search. They don’t have the authority to do that.”

Milwaukee County prosecutors have launched a John Doe investigation, in which prosecutors can subpoena documents without public knowledge. The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office are monitoring the investigation, The Journal Sentinel reported, and could launch an investigation.

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Former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Officer Marcus Jackson Released From Prison After Just 2 Years – Slap On The Wrist For Sexually Assaulting 6 Women While On Duty – Faced A Dozen Sex Related Charges

May 26, 2012

CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA – Former Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer Marcus Jackson was released from prison on Friday, more than two years after he was arrested for sexually assaulting women while on duty.

Jackson, 28, now must complete nine months of post-release supervision and is required to register as a sex offender, said a spokesman with the N.C. Department of Public Safety.

Jackson pleaded guilty in December 2010 to more than a dozen sex-related charges in connection with assaults on six women. He was sentenced to about two years, though he received credit for 344 days he’d spent in jail after his initial arrest.

Records show Jackson most recently was incarcerated at the Pamlico Correctional Institution, a medium-custody facility near the Outer Banks. He’d also spent time in Central Prison, and had committed no infractions during his incarceration, according to the website of the state Division of Adult Correction.

Jackson’s public defender could not be reached for comment.

On Friday, an attorney for two of Jackson’s accusers said they were aware of his release and were worried about whether he would return to Charlotte.

“The irony is that Marcus Jackson is being released (Friday) from jail. He’s now paid his debt to society and is able to move on with his life,” said attorney Brad Smith. “Our clients, however, are still waiting for a resolution to this matter.”

Jackson was arrested in December of 2009 after two women told police he’d sexually assaulted them during traffic stops. In one case, a 17-year-old girl said Jackson offered not to write a ticket in exchange for her performing oral sex on him.

Authorities have said Jackson fondled the other five women.

Jackson was terminated after the initial allegations surfaced. But the case raised questions about his hiring with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police department.

Police admitted that a pre-employment screening did not turn up a domestic violence restraining order filed by Jackson’s girlfriend, which should have disqualified him. The department has since made changes to its hiring procedures.

Meanwhile, the city of Charlotte also has spent nearly $700,000 to defend and settle lawsuits filed by some of Jackson’s accusers.

But two remaining civil suits involving Smith’s clients are expected to go to trial in early 2013, after the accusers rejected the city’s offer. Smith said the case is currently in the discovery phase.

The city has retained outside counsel, including attorney Jim Cooney of the firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, to help with its defense on the civil cases. City officials said it is not unusual to retain outside counsel for cases involving an officer or employee, and the attorneys are paid from the city’s risk fund.

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University Of Montana At Missoula, Missoula Police, And County Attorney’s Office Under Investigation By Fed For Mishandling As Many As 80 Sexual Assault Complaints

May 2, 2012

MISSOULA, MONTANA – The U.S. Justice Department has launched a probe into allegations that up to 80 complaints of sexual assault over three years were not investigated thoroughly in a college town in Montana.

The investigation will look into sexual assault investigations at the University of Montana at Missoula, the Missoula Police Department and Missoula County Attorney’s Office.

“Late last year, the Department became aware of serious concerns that alleged sexual assaults of women, including but not limited to students at the University of Montana, were not being investigated in a prompt and adequate fashion,” Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez of the Justice Department’s civil rights division said at news conference Tuesday.

“Our primary focus is not the number of reported allegations of sexual assault; rather, our focus is on the response,” he added.

Fred Van Valkenburg, Missoula County chief prosecutor, vehemently defended his office and the police officers involved in the investigations.

“We adamantly deny that we have done any such thing and we are deeply disturbed with the allegation that we have done so,” he said, according to the Missoulian newspaper. “While we have no choice, given the heavy hand of the federal government, but to cooperate with this investigation… I think it is an overreach by the federal government.”

The 80 reported cases occurred in a three-year period. A rash of sexual assault complaints at the University of Montana are also under investigation. At least two of the allegations are said to involve football players on the University of Montana Grizzlies football team.

Missoula, a city of about 67,000 people in western Montana, is tied to the school in many ways. The University of Montana is the top employer in the city.

In December, the University of Montana initiated its own investigation after allegations of a female being gang-raped and possibly drugged by other students. The university hired Montana Supreme Court Justice Diane Barz to investigate and she looked into nine alleged sexual assaults from September 2010 through December.

Barz wrote in her report that the university has “a problem of sexual assault on and off campus.”

Perez said there has been at least 11 allegations of sexual assault involving students in the last 18 months.

“As to the University, we are investigating whether it responds promptly and effectively to allegations of sexual assault and harassment on campus and has taken the necessary steps to combat sexual violence,” Perez said.

At least two of the allegations have involved players at the University of Montana Grizzlies football team, the Missoulian reported.

After the allegations last year, the school’s football coach and athletic director were dismissed, the paper reported.

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Congressman Assaulted By TSA Agent At San Antonio Texas Airport

April 24, 2012

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS – U.S. Rep. Francisco Canseco said he was assaulted by a TSA agent at the San Antonio International Airport.

The Texas Congressman said the security agent went too far during a pat-down earlier this month.

“The agent was very aggressive in his pat-down, and he was patting me down where no one is supposed to go,” said Canseco. “It got very uncomfortable so I moved his hand away. That stopped everything and brought in supervisors and everyone else.”

Canseco told the KENS 5 I-Team the agent said he too was assaulted when Canseco pushed his hand away.

According to TSA, neither man was cited.

A week later when going through the San Antonio International Airport, Canseco was once again selected for a pat-down.

“I did not see it as a coincidence,” he said. “I asked them why are you going to pat me down again, so we discussed it further and after discussing it further, they patted me down.”

However, before the discussion was over San Antonio Police Department officers were called to the security check point area.

Again, no one was cited.

TSA issued the I-Team the following statement about the incident:

“TSA incorporates random and unpredictable security measures throughout the airport. Once a passenger enters the screening process, they must complete it prior to continuing to a flight or secure area.”

Canseco said his experience illustrated changes in the airport security are needed.

“It is very important that Americans feel safe and secure as they travel in our nation’s airways – safe and secure from acts of terrorism and all that. But, I also think that TSA sometimes gets too aggressive, and it’s not just about me it’s about every American that goes through those TSA scanners.”

The I-Team requested video from TSA of both incidents. A TSA spokesperson said our request is being reviewed.

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Federal Class Action Lawsuit Filed On Behalf Of Women Sexually Assaulted While In Custody Of Texas Based US Immigration And Customs Enforcement (ICE) – 200 Reported In Custody Assaults In US Since 2007

October 24, 2011

TEXAS – A class-action lawsuit has been filed on behalf of three immigrant women who were allegedly sexually assaulted while in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Texas, the American Civil Liberties Union said this week.

The ACLU, citing documents it said it had obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, said in a news release that there have been nearly 200 allegations of sexual abuse of immigration detainees jailed at detention facilities across the United States since 2007.

The ACLU release did not give dates of any of the alleged assaults, including those involving the three women who are plaintiffs in the class-action suit. The plaintiffs were identified only as Sarah Doe, Kimberly Doe and Raquel Doe “to protect them from further harm,” the ACLU said.

The alleged attacks occurred while the plaintiffs were being transported from the T. Don Hutto Family Residential Center in Taylor, Texas, to the airport or bus station in nearby Austin, the ACLU said.

Its release did not say where the class-action suit was filed Wednesday, but it said defendants include three ICE officials; Williamson County, Texas, where the Hutto facility is; the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a private prison company that manages the Hutto facility; the former facility administrator for Hutto; and a guard at the facility.

The lawsuit alleges that ICE along with Williamson County and the Corrections Corporation of America were “deliberately indifferent and willfully blind to the fact that (the guard named as a defendant) and other employees regularly violated the rule that detainees are not be transported without another escort officer of the same gender present,” the ACLU said.

ICE did not comment specifically on the ACLU’s announcement of the lawsuit, but an agency spokeswoman said ICE “maintains a strict zero tolerance policy for any kind of abusive or inappropriate behavior and requires all contractors working with the agency to adhere to this policy.”

ICE Public Affairs Officer Gillian Christensen added that the agency requires regular criminal backgrounds checks for its workforce.

“The (Department of Homeland Security) Office of the Inspector General and ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility investigate ALL allegations of sexual abuse or misconduct and the agency takes appropriate action — whether it is pursuing criminal charges or administrative action — when those allegations are substantiated,” Christensen said in the ICE statement.

The Corrections Corporation of America did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the ACLU announcement.

The ACLU said it was basing its claim that there have been 185 allegations of sexual abuse in federal detention centers against female immigration detainees on various federal documents.

The documents — obtained from the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General, Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and ICE, according to the ACLU — showed that Texas had more alleged abuse cases, 56, than any other state, the organization’s news release said.

“While the information gleaned from the documents likely does not represent the full scope of the problem given that sexual abuse is notoriously underreported, the documents nonetheless make clear that the sexual abuse of immigration detainees is not an isolated problem limited to a few rogue facilities or to a handful of bad-apple government contractors who staff some of the nation’s immigration jails,” the ACLU said.

“Unfortunately, we believe these complaints are just the tip of the iceberg,” said Mark Whitburn, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Texas.

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