Acquitted sergeant sees bias in Aberdeen probe Investigators appeared to be targeting black men in sex scandal, he says

March 23, 1997|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

The sergeant acquitted Friday of having sex with a female private said investigators appeared to be targeting black sergeants even though some white noncommissioned officers also broke regulations.

Staff Sgt. Nathanael C. Beach also agreed with some members of Congress and the NAACP that the overzealous investigation itself should be investigated, and he painted a portrait of a "lax" command at Aberdeen Proving Ground that probably contributed to an atmosphere where sexual misconduct could take place.

"There's no way you're going to investigate over 2,000 women over two years and the only faces you're going to put on this Aberdeen sex scandal are black," said Beach, interviewed at his home yesterday.

Although all those who have been charged so far are black, Army sources say nine pending investigations involve allegations against nonblack sergeants at Aberdeen.

Army officials have strongly rejected claims of selective prosecution based on race. "This is not a matter of race; it's a matter of right and wrong," Army Chief of Staff Dennis J. Reimer told reporters recently.

During his pretrial hearing, Beach said there was testimony that two female privates attended a birthday party for a white drill sergeant at a restaurant near APG. "The investigating officer knows about it. A lot of other people know about it," he said. "There should have been some charges against Caucasian men."

Beach, who is married and has two daughters, was found innocent Friday of having consensual sex with Pvt. Jessica Bleckley, 18, whose charges helped spark the Army-wide scandal. The colonel presiding at his hearing found that she was the type to "fabricate."

Beach was found guilty of two minor offenses and was recommended for removal from the promotion list to first sergeant -- his dream since joining the Army 13 1/2 years ago. He will appeal that decision.

Wearing a sweat shirt emblazoned with "143rd Ordnance Battalion, Company C," the 32-year-old drill sergeant is still troubled that his case could have gone this far, when Bleckley admitted to another sergeant that she had a credibility problem and even charged that the Army coerced her into dropping charges.

"You have to understand the CID [Criminal Investigation Command]. If they want to make you guilty, they'll make you guilty," he said.

CID investigators were also accused by five female privates of trying to coerce them into making rape charges against sergeants and instructors, although they alleged only consensual sex. CID officials have steadfastly denied the claims, saying they acted professionally and with sensitivity.

Beach, who arrived at Aberdeen in May 1996, said he is doubtful there are many bona fide rape charges against sergeants and other instructors, saying word would have leaked immediately.

Fifty-six female trainees have said they were victims of some type of sexual misconduct at Aberdeen, Army officials have said.

Some women were likely retaliating against tough drill sergeants, Beach surmised.

Those allegations of sex determined to be truthful will likely turn out to be consensual relations -- which are still prohibited between a superior and subordinate, Beach said. The sergeant said he has no knowledge of any sergeants having consensual sex with subordinates at Aberdeen, although "it's been something within the military since you integrated the military" with women.

"You're going to have some people who are going to take advantage of a situation," he said. "Don't make it out to be more than it is. If it's consensual sex, it's consensual sex. Don't say it's rape."

Beach also said that many of the women try to initiate consensual sex. He recalls often finding anonymous love letters tucked under his office door. He said he would call the women together and warn them that such behavior was inappropriate.

If he could be a member of Army Secretary Togo West's panel to investigate sexual harassment in the military, Beach said, he would make sure that in consensual sexual relationships the women also would face punishment.

Female trainees are taught when they first arrive that such behavior is prohibited. "They have to sign off on that. They get counseled over and over," he said.

While the sergeant bears the greatest responsibility and should be discharged, the woman should have her pay docked, receive extra duty and counseling, he said. "It isn't fair. We have to change it."

But a "lax" atmosphere rather than a "squared-away" military environment at Aberdeen contributed to the problem, he said. Also, officers rarely get out and mingle with the trainees, which helps create an atmosphere where people feel comfortable coming forward to report any problems. Maj. Gen. Robert D. Shadley, commander of the U.S. Ordnance Center and School, is a "decent human being," Beach said, but "he has subordinate commanders who don't tell him what's going on."

The Army is conducting a number of investigations, including one by the Army inspector general's office that will look at the command at Aberdeen.

Beach will continue to have an office job until the Army reassigns him. He opens a heaping scrapbook full of commendations he received over the years: an Army Commendation Medal, a Good Conduct Medal, an Army Achievement Medal.

He talks of his eagerness to get back to his job of training troops -- and away from Aberdeen.

Pub Date: 3/22/97

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