Sunday, June 20, 2021

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A top general has lost her command and multiple soldiers have been reprimanded following a months-long investigation into allegations that an Illinois-based Army Reserve unit mishandled sexual assault complaints for years, Army officials said Tuesday.

The Army launched a review of the 416th Theater Engineer Command in January 2020 at the request of Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth. The senators’ request followed an Associated Press story about allegations of improper internal investigations into sexual assault complaints within the unit and retaliation against a whistleblower.

Army officials released the findings from the investigation on Tuesday. The probe concluded that multiple leaders in the 416th lacked basic knowledge of how to handle sexual assaults and harassment and failed to properly staff offices designed to support victims.

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The 416th’s commanding general, Miyako Schanely, was suspended last summer as part of the probe. Pentagon officials said in a news release Tuesday that she has relinquished her command.

The investigation found that Schanely failed to publish an updated sexual assault policy for the 416th for more than two years; didn’t convene a sexual assault review board for 15 months even though the Department of Defense requires such meetings be held monthly; left a sexual assault response coordinator position vacant for nine months; and failed to conduct a survey of the unit’s command climate.

Twelve soldiers have been reprimanded or been given counselling statements. The Pentagon also took “administrative actions” against two senior leaders. Three civilian employees face administrative action as well. Army officials did not identify them or elaborate on their violations, citing privacy concerns, and names were largely redacted from the investigatory findings.

Rachel VanLandingham, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel who teaches national security law at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, said generals could decide to remove a reprimand from a soldier’s file if their behaviour improves, or use it to justify tougher punishment if problems continue. They also could place the reprimand in the soldier’s permanent human resources file, which could hurt an officer’s chances at promotion, she said.


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She described counselling statements as a “tiny slap on the wrist” and called them “practically meaningless.

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The 416th, based in the Chicago suburb of Darien, provides technical and engineering support for U.S. military forces and serves as the headquarters for nearly 11,000 soldiers in 26 states west of the Mississippi River.

Problems within the unit came to light in January 2020 when Amy Braley Franck, a civilian sexual assault victim advocate with the 416th, told the AP that commanders launched internal investigations into at least two sexual assault cases, one in 2018 and another in 2019. Federal law and Department of Defense policy require that commanders refer sexual assault complaints to criminal investigators in their respective branches to avoid biased investigations. Commanders who don’t follow the proper channels can face reprimand, removal from command or a court martial.

Braley Franck also alleged that the 416th went months without holding a sexual assault management meeting and unit commanders placed a woman on the firing range with someone she had accused of sexually harassing her, causing her to fear for her life. Braley Frank’s commanders suspended her in November 2019 in what she believes was retaliation for alerting Army criminal investigators to the internal probes.

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The Wisconsin National Guard’s top commander, Adj. Gen. Donald Dunbar, resigned in December 2019 after a federal review found he ran internal sexual assault investigations rather than forward complaints to the National Guard Bureau.

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Braley Franck said the investigation confirmed her claims are true. She remains suspended but has a hearing set for July on a grievance she filed with the Department of Defense and the investigation’s findings should help her there, she said.

“Everything substantiates my claims,” she said.

Durbin and Duckworth issued a joint statement Tuesday afternoon saying the issues that led to mishandling sexual assault cases in the 416th are “unacceptable” anywhere in the U.S. military. They said the investigation shows the Army is trying to improve how it handles sexual assault allegations.

“We will continue to support programs that improve the military justice system, increase training for command leaders and offer support for sexual assault and harassment survivors,” they said. “Service members cannot be silenced or abandoned for seeking justice and accountability.”




© 2021 The Canadian Press



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