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Twice Accused of Sexual Assault, He Was Let Go by Army Commanders. He Attacked Again.

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Vianna Davila, Lexi Churchill, and Ren Larson have an excellent (though infuriating) report in ProPublica that begins:

Christian Alvarado began to type as he sat alone in an interrogation room at Fort Bliss, a sprawling Army post in El Paso, Texas. He’d spent most of the previous seven hours hooked up to a polygraph, answering a military investigator’s questions about an allegation that he’d sexually assaulted a fellow soldier.

His story had changed several times during the interview in late July 2020. The investigator told Alvarado he’d already failed two polygraph tests, then left the room so that the young soldier could type up his account in a sworn statement. With his fingers on the keyboard, Alvarado began describing the night in December 2019 that he spent in the barracks with a female soldier he’d met that day.

“She was drunk and so was I,” Alvarado, an Army private first class, typed on the investigator’s computer. “We had sex, but she passed out.”

He wrote that he’d lied about the encounter being consensual in previous interviews with investigators because he wanted to protect his Army career.

When Alvarado was done with his written admission, the military investigator walked back in the room. He asked Alvarado why he continued to have sex with the woman after she passed out. “I was in the moment,” the 20-year-old soldier replied.

The investigator then asked Alvarado about another allegation against him. An Army chaplain’s assistant had accused him of sexually assaulting her in May 2020 after a house party. Sex with her was “wrong due to how intoxicated she was,” Alvarado said, but he would not agree to a sworn statement about the second allegation because it would just be “icing on the cake.”

Alvarado told the investigator that he’d had sex with 42 women in the past four years, about a quarter of whom were intoxicated at the time. His sexual experiences had become boring and they blurred together, he said, to the point that he struggled to remember specific details about his partners.

At the end of the daylong interrogation, Alvarado’s commanders didn’t place him in detention or under any restrictions beyond the orders he had already received to stay at least 100 feet away from the two women who had accused him of assault, according to records. He was free to leave.

A month later, he sexually assaulted another woman.

Had Alvarado’s case been handled by civilians and not the military, his written admission could have been enough evidence to quickly issue an arrest warrant, according to two lawyers who previously worked for the El Paso County district attorney’s office.

“I would have felt comfortable charging at that point,” said Penny Hamilton, who led the Rape and Child Abuse Unit at the district attorney’s office and later served as an El Paso County magistrate judge. “When you have the offender admitting the sexual act took place and you have the offender admitting that the alleged victim couldn’t have consented because she was passed out, then you have the elements” of a criminal charge.

In Texas’ civilian system, a person charged with sexual assault goes before a magistrate judge, who’d set a bail amount that experts said could easily be in the tens of thousands of dollars. Civilian magistrates and judges use bail to ensure suspects show up at trial. Suspects are released only if they can pay the bond.

The military justice system has no bail. Many decisions about who should be detained for serious crimes before trial are made not by judges but by commanders, who are not required to be trained lawyers.

Recent congressional reforms changed the system, which has long drawn criticism for the extensive discretion commanders wield. While the revisions stripped some of their authority, commanders continue to control various aspects of the judicial process, including deciding whether service members accused of crimes should be detained while awaiting trial, a process called pretrial confinement.

A ProPublica and Texas Tribune investigation into how commanders in the Army, the nation’s largest military branch, use pretrial confinement revealed a system that treats soldiers unevenly and draws little outside scrutiny. Over the coming months, ProPublica and the Tribune will explore how military justice operates, often in vastly different ways than the civilian system.

The news organizations obtained data from the Army on nearly 8,400 courts-martial over the past decade under the Freedom of Information Act. The resulting analysis, the first-of-its-kind, showed that soldiers accused of sexual assault are less than half as likely to be placed in pretrial confinement than those accused of offenses like drug use and distribution, disobeying an officer or burglary.

The analysis showed that, on average, soldiers had to face at least eight counts of sexual offenses before they were placed in pretrial confinement as often as soldiers charged with drug or burglary crimes.

That disparity has grown in the past five years. The rate of pretrial confinement more than doubled in cases involving drug offenses, larceny and disobeying a superior commissioned officer, but it remained roughly the same for sexual assault cases like Alvarado’s, the analysis found.

For instance, the Army opted against pretrial confinement for a staff sergeant who was accused of raping the wife of a soldier in his command at Fort Bliss, while at another post a 19-year-old Texas woman was placed in detention for more than three months for using drugs and mouthing off to commanders.

“Justice that’s arbitrary is not justice,” Col. Don Christensen, a former chief prosecutor for the Air Force, said. “It shouldn’t come down to the whims of a particular commander.”

Army officials defended the system. They said  . . ..

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 August 2022 at 4:02 pm

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