Others at APG allegedly coerced Woman who accuses Army of threats says many more affected

March 13, 1997|By Scott Wilson and Tom Bowman | Scott Wilson and Tom Bowman,SUN STAFF

Casting further doubt on the Army's investigation of sexual misconduct at Aberdeen Proving Ground, a female private said yesterday that far more women than those who have protested publicly were subjected to forceful interrogation and threats.

"I know there are other women," Pvt. Darla Hornberger said a day after she and four other women denounced the probe in a nationally televised news conference. "If I didn't know others who are going through this, I wouldn't have gotten up and made a spectacle of myself."

But Army officials at Aberdeen and the Pentagon continued to defend the probe, while rebuffing a request by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Congressional Black Caucus for an independent review.

After meeting with NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, Army Secretary Togo West said Aberdeen commanders would examine charges that investigators tried to coerce recruits into making false rape charges.

As officials prepare for the first courts-martial in the probe, West said the investigation must continue without interference.

Asked whether the allegations of coercion throw cold water on the international investigation into sexual misconduct in the ranks, West said: "Any allegation anywhere that something has gone awry with the process is a matter of concern. Whether that translates into a taint I would think not."

Mfume said he would today press the two committees on Capitol Hill that oversee the Pentagon for an outside investigation. "Unless we have an independent look at the facts here, then the integrity of the Army and integrity of this process still remains clouded," Mfume said.

The developments came a day after five former and current privates accused Army investigators of pressuring them to make false rape charges.

Four of the women said they had balked and were punished as a result. Only Pvt. Toni Moreland, who came forward with her account a week ago, said she made a false charge; she could face a court-martial.

Fifty-six women have made accusations of sexual misconduct against male superiors at Aberdeen, while a Pentagon hot line has received more than 1,100 criminal complaints worldwide.

Seven sergeants and one captain at Aberdeen have been charged with crimes ranging from rape to threatening witnesses. Six sergeants have faced administrative punishment for lesser offenses.

Race has also become an issue. All eight men charged are black; the majority of their accusers are white women. Of the 22 men suspended during the probe, about 14 are black, Army sources say.

"We have not suggested that racism or sexism or class is an issue here," Mfume said, although local NAACP leaders have done just that. "But we have offered that all might be an issue."

Mfume said that while sexual misconduct should be prosecuted aggressively, there shouldn't be a "dragnet to round up people under false pretenses with false or inaccurate accusations."

Allegations that investigators tried to twist reports of consensual sex into rape charges come on the heels of a development in the case against Staff Sgt. Delmar G. Simpson. He is charged with raping 10 female recruits and with sodomy, assault and extortion.

In recent weeks, one of his accusers has changed her rape allegation to one of consensual sex, Army sources said.

Simpson's attorney, Capt. Ed Brady, declined to comment on any change in the allegations. Still, Brady said that accusations of coercion will cause greater scrutiny of the work of investigators.

Privately, Army officials say investigators acted with the seriousness demanded by such charges.

At Aberdeen yesterday, Hornberger, Pvt. Brandi Krewson and Pvt. Kelly Wagner received reassignment orders. They had accused the Army on Tuesday of holding up those assignments.

Another woman featured at the news conference, Kathryn Leming, has left the Army.

Hornberger got a "compassion" assignment to Fort Riley, Kan., to be with her three children -- a posting she thought might be jeopardized by her interviews.

"I was not threatened" by investigators, she said. "I was told it was possible that I would lose my assignment at Fort Riley, that I could be sent to Korea."

Ed Starnes, an ordnance center spokesman, said the women were kept at the post to testify at military hearings that are similar to a grand jury.

"That wasn't explained to them," he added.

Hornberger, 30, joined the Army 11 months ago to help pay off school loans and support her three children. After she completes her duty, she plans to finish college studies in secondary education and work with troubled teens.

Her trouble started in August, when company commanders asked women who had been sexually harassed to come forward.

Soon, she said, interviews began that followed a "good cop, bad cop" format. Some interviews at the military police station, lasted as long as 4 1/2 hours, she said.

"I asked, 'Do I need an attorney?' " Hornberger said. "They said I did not."

Army procedures require that questioning stop when a subject requests a lawyer.

Hornberger met yesterday with Maj. Gen. Robert D. Shadley, commander of the ordnance center and school, to clarify accusations made at the news conference.

"He told me there would be no recriminations against us for standing up and speaking our minds," she said.

"What has happened at APG has made me ask questions," Hornberger said. "But I can say that I am proud of being in the Army."

Pub Date: 3/13/97

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