Army accused of forcing sex claim Private fears she will be punished for recanting charge

March 05, 1997|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

A female private involved in the sexual misconduct scandal at Aberdeen Proving Ground said yesterday that Army investigators pressured her into falsely claiming she had sex with a drill sergeant -- and that she now faces a court-martial for recanting.

Pvt. Toni Moreland, 21, of St. Louis says she faces prosecution for signing a false statement alleging she had consensual sex with an instructor at the Ordnance Center and School. She says officials forced her to make the statement while investigating allegations that the sergeant had raped her.

"I told them nothing had happened between us, but they kept yelling 'You're lying,' " Moreland said. "They told me that if I just said that we had consensual sex that he would get a slap on the wrist, but if I said nothing happened that he would be sent to jail while he was being investigated. I didn't want him to go to jail."

Moreland is not the first female soldier to charge the Army with high-pressure tactics in the sexual misconduct investigation. Jessica Bleckley, a former Aberdeen trainee whose allegations sparked the investigation, recently charged that the Army coerced her into signing a statement clearing the way for charges against one of the instructors to be dropped. The scandal, which includes allegations ranging from consensual sex to rape, has sparked charges against six sergeants and one captain. Of those, Sgt. Isiah Chestnut Jr. and Sgt. 1st Class Theron Brown chose to leave the Army rather than face a court-martial. Investigators say six other cases have been resolved by administrative hearings.

APG spokesman John Yaquiant confirmed yesterday that Moreland faces a summary court-martial -- the lowest level of court-martial -- on charges of making a false statement under oath and being absent without leave.

Citing privacy regulations and the continuing investigation, Yaquiant would not say whether the sergeant allegedly involved with Moreland had been investigated. But he says officials are taking the entire sex scandal "very seriously."

"When you make a sworn statement, we take that very seriously," Yaquiant said. "It's not normal [criminal investigative] procedure to force people to make statements."

The maximum penalty for a summary court-martial is a reduction in rank, two months' restriction, forfeiture of two-thirds of a month's pay and confinement for 30 days.

Moreland, a member of the 16th Ordnance Battalion's Bravo Company, says she was called in by officials Oct. 15 and told that investigators had information from her two roommates that a sergeant had raped her.

She said she acknowledged being attracted to the sergeant -- who is married -- and going to his room at the base. But, she said, she told investigators the sergeant was not there and the pair was never intimate.

"They just kept telling me that they knew I was lying and that I needed to come forward so he could be punished," Moreland, who arrived at the school in July and graduated Oct. 19, said yesterday. "Later, when I had a chance to think, I felt bad about lying and told my chaplain, and he told me that only I could make it right."

Moreland said she then recanted her statement and was told that investigators didn't believe her. She said she was accused in November of having sex with another private in the barracks -- a charge she denies -- and given an administrative hearing and 45 days of extra duty.

Moreland said that as a result of the administrative proceeding, her Christmas leave was canceled and she went AWOL to attend the remarriage ceremony of her parents. Moreland spoke out yesterday at the home of Janice Grant, president of the Harford County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Grant, whose organization has charged that Army investigators are unfairly targeting black soldiers, praised Moreland, who is white, for coming forward.

"It proves what we have been saying, which is that the girls are being pressured," Grant said. "I think [Moreland] has shown a lot of courage."

Pub Date: 3/05/97

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