(AP — A months long investigation into allegations that leaders of an Illinois-based Army Reserve unit mishandled sexual assault complaints has ended with the reprimand of 12 soldiers and unknown disciplinary actions against three civilian employees, Army Reserve officials said.
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 cited an Associated Press story about allegations of improper internal investigations into sexual assault complaints within the unit and retaliation against a whistleblower.
Maj. Gen. Gregory Mosser, the U.S. Army Reserve Command’s deputy commanding general, said Monday that the investigation revealed “numerous shortfalls and found various individuals and units” improperly handled sexual assault and harassment reports.
“Sexual harassment and assault breaks the bonds of trust and unit cohesion at every level,” Mosser said. “As such, we will continue to promote awareness and foster a culture and environment where victims feel safe to come forward. We are committing to eradicating sexual harassment and assault from our ranks.”
Seven officers were reprimanded and five other soldiers were given counseling statements, he said. Action to address findings involving three civilian employees is pending, he added. He declined to name any of the soldiers or civilians, explain their violations or what discipline the civilians might face.
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The Army Reserve suspended the 416th’s commander, Maj. Gen. Miyako Schanely, last summer as the investigation was proceeding. Mosser refused to answer questions about her status. The Army’s Office of Public Affairs noted in a news release Tuesday that Army leadership took action against the 416th’s commanding general but didn’t say if that person was Schanely or what that action was.
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.
Amy Braley Franck, a civilian sexual assault victim advocate with the 416th, has alleged 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, even though the DOD requires such meetings monthly 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.
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.
The reprimands and counseling statements the Army Reserve handed down against the 12 soldiers in the 416th don’t carry a reduction in rank, pay cuts or a loss of benefits.
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 behavior 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.
She described counseling statements as a “tiny slap on the wrist” and called them “practically meaningless.”
Mosser acknowledged to reporters that the Reserve’s hiring process for its sexual assault victim support programs aren’t very rapid and sometimes civilian positions end up remaining vacant for longer than commanders like.