Trials are set for 3 trainers at Aberdeen Sexual misconduct allegations to go before general courts-martial

Mikulski calls for hearings

NAACP seeks details about probe after getting complaints

November 27, 1996|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Tom Bowman and James Bock contributed to this article.

Three trainers accused of sexual misconduct at an Aberdeen Proving Ground school will face the most serious level of court-martial, officials said yesterday, even as Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said she supported congressional hearings on the harassment of military women.

The "general" courts-martial can impose the toughest penalties, including dismissal or imprisonment, said Capt. Craig Minnick, an Army lawyer at the base. Two of the trainers -- Capt. Derrick Robertson and Staff Sgt. Delmar Simpson -- are facing charges that range from harassment to rape. Staff Sgt. Nathanael Beach is charged with having an improper relationship with a student, obstruction of justice and disobeying an order.

Mikulski, who visited the base yesterday, called the charges "repugnant and despicable."

The Maryland Democrat met separately with Maj. Gen. Robert Shadley, head of the Army Ordnance Center and School, and 18 female recruits to discuss the charges and life at the center.

"These charges were so repugnant and so despicable that I wanted to hear firsthand what happened," Mikulski said at a news conference after her meetings. "This is not a women's issue, this is a military issue."

Mikulski said she has asked the head of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the panel's ranking Democrat for oversight hearings on sexual harassment in the military.

Last week, House Speaker Newt Gingrich ordered a congressional panel to investigate whether the Navy and Air Force have been affected by the sort of sexual abuse reported by female Army trainees at Aberdeen and other training bases.

In a letter to the House National Security Committee, he wrote: "It is critical for Congress to ensure that all allegations of abuse are aggressively investigated and that appropriate actions are taken all military services to punish those responsible and to prevent such abuses in the future."

Mikulski also urged each branch of the military to establish permanent telephone hot lines so women in the military can call to report harassment and abuse.

"The victims are doubly punished, first by the assault itself and then by the stunning silence of their commanders and the very system theyturn to," she said. "There must be a change. It must be more than a buddy system or an occasional 1-800 hot line."

As of yesterday, a hot line established at the proving ground had received 5,599 calls; 756 have been referred for further investigation.

Robertson, Simpson and Beach stand at the center of a scandal that has resulted in the suspension of 20 trainers at Aberdeen Proving Ground -- and has spread to other bases.

No schedule has been set for their courts-martial, Army officials said. "The next step will be arraignments, and no date has been set as of yet for those proceedings," Minnick said, noting that the referrals for courts-martial were made Thursday.

The decision to convene the courts-martial was made by Maj. Gen. John E. Longhouser, who recently took command of APG. He based his decision on investigators' reports, the findings of hearings that are the military equivalent of a grand jury, and recommendations of the trainers' commanding officers, Minnick said.

There are three levels of courts-martial: summary, special and general, Minnick said. "The summary is usually for the less severe cases, which can carry a punishment of 30 days' confinement, and special courts-martial can result in a bad-conduct discharge," he said. "General allows for the entire range of punishment from dismissal to imprisonment."

Meanwhile, NAACP leaders said yesterday that they want Army officials to provide more details about the Aberdeen investigation.

Janice Grant, president of the Harford County NAACP, said some of the sergeants targeted by the investigation argue that white noncommissioned officers have faced similar charges but were not disciplined. She and other county and state NAACP representatives met Monday night with a half-dozen black sergeants, some of whom have been suspended.

"They gave instances of charges being dropped and infractions just as serious but ignored. We have things documented; dates, times places and names," Grant said.

The 20 men who have been suspended in the sexual misconduct investigation at Aberdeen are black, said Grant, though Army officials have not given a racial breakdown of either those charged or the 350 instructors at the school.

Grant said she hopes to meet with the school's hierarchy next week. "We just want answers to some of the questions given us by the men." Officials of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People expect to meet with more of the accused men in coming weeks, she added.

"We have not decided to get involved, and we are in a listening posture," said Dan Willson, a spokesman for NAACP President Kweisi Mfume.

Pub Date: 11/27/96

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