- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 15, 2015

MINOT Air Force Base, North Dakota — As Air Force missions go, the prosecution of Tech. Sgt. Aaron D. Allmon II on explosive sexual-harassment charges ran into turbulence and wound up in a nosedive.

Despite facing up to 130 years in prison in the early stages of the case, Sgt. Allmon was sentenced Saturday to just 30 days behind bars after a judge found him not guilty of the most devastating charges against him, including assault consummated by a battery and threats against co-workers.

Judge Tiffany Wagner did find him guilty of maltreatment of two female service members and making a false official statement. Prosecutors then pushed for a bad-conduct discharge and reduction of rank to senior airman. The judge refused and instead docked him one stripe.

The outcome represented a blow to the military’s high-profile attack on sex-related offenses, a campaign aimed at improving safety and professionalism in the workplace that has come under fire for spurring a climate in which seemingly innocuous interactions can balloon into criminal offenses.

“While the verdict was not what we had hoped for, it nevertheless stands as a strong rebuke to those who have violated their sacred oath to seek justice and fairness for all service members,” said Jeffrey F. Addicott, a retired Army officer and a member of Sgt. Allmon’s defense team.

Mr. Addicott, a law professor and director of the St. Mary’s University School of Law Center for Terrorism Law in San Antonio, called the case an “outrage of overreaction” that should never have become the subject of a general court-martial.

“This is really a story about how the Air Force leadership has abandoned their leadership duties in the name of political correctness and expediency by employing direct and indirect unlawful command influence against any male accused of any type of improper conduct towards a female,” Mr. Addicott said in a statement.

“Hopefully the Air Force leadership got the message loud and clear,” he added.

After the trial, the Minot Air Force Base public affairs office released a statement saying the case “demonstrates the Air Force’s commitment to tackling sexual harassment, which is on the continuum of harm that includes sexual assault.”

“Each and every allegation is taken seriously, investigated fully, and adjudicated fairly, regardless of the gender, race, sexual orientation, or rank of the accused or accuser,” said the statement. “The Air Force also remains dedicated to a system of military justice that guarantees fundamental fairness to all, especially those accused of a crime, and ensures a disciplined Air Force committed to the mission of national security and defense.”

Sgt. Allmon was accused of “inappropriate touching” involving four women, as well as making a number of crude statements to women in his office, such as asking to see one service member’s nipples and telling another that he would have sex with her if he weren’t married.

A staff sergeant accused him of brushing up her shorts to see her tattoo, which was the assault charge. A civilian co-worker said he ran his hand up her leg, though she previously told an investigator that he touched her knee.

The problem for the prosecution appeared to be a lack of evidence. The judge found Sgt. Allmon not guilty of all touching offenses and threats, none of which could be corroborated by other witnesses.

Most of the crude verbal interactions also fell into the category of “he said, she said.”

The civilian co-worker said he sent her text messages inviting her to his home at night, but a search of his cellphone, including a search for deleted messages, turned up nothing.

The two maltreatment charges involved two young service women whom he instructed in photography in the public affairs office.

The false statement conviction, a felony, was for telling an investigator that his cellphone was with his wife when it was found in his desk.

One service member said he made her “feel like an object” by disagreeing with her lesbian lifestyle and that she was “trapped in a living hell.” Another said he “ruined” her first year in the military by calling her lazy and refusing to put her up for awards.

“I was ridiculed daily for being too sensitive, for being too emotional, for not being able to take criticism,” she said. “I am just hoping that the Air Force can prove to me that it is the institution that I thought it was.”

Sgt. Allmon did not testify during the trial but made a brief statement at sentencing in which he apologized to the court “for the things I’ve said.” He told one of his accusers that he was “truly sorry for the pain I caused you” and the other that the Air Force “is better for you being here.”

During sentencing, Capt. John Knox called him “a criminal convicted of abusing those under his command” and that a harsher punishment “sends the appropriate message that this conduct, this maltreatment will not be tolerated.”

“It’s time to say enough is enough,” Capt. Knox said.

Capt. Carman Leone, his defense advocate, argued that Sgt. Allmon had a diagnosis of severe post-traumatic defense syndrome, yet the leadership confined him to an isolated desk, refused to let him travel to Texas for treatment or to visit his mother who had cancer, and gave him a letter of reprimand after his wife delivered his lunch and reading material.

“Are you kidding me?” said Capt. Leone, adding that “the pendulum has swung too far.”

The defense plans to appeal the convictions. Sgt. Allmon has served seven days in prison, reducing his remaining sentence to 23 days.

Virginia Hermosa, a private lawyer hired by Sgt. Allmon’s sister to assist with his defense, called the case an “eye-opener.” She said the military treated her client as if he were guilty as soon as accusations against him were made.

“I mean, it’s one thing to be able to protect [the accusers]; it’s another thing to stop him from protecting himself and to break him down,” said Ms. Hermosa, who served in the Texas attorney general’s office.

She said she had little confidence that the case would rein in the military’s no-holds-barred approach toward combating sexual harassment, in part because Sgt. Allmon’s resources and record gave him an advantage over most defendants.

Lisa A. Roper, Sgt. Allmon’s sister, estimated that she spent $200,000 to support her brother’s case, including hiring outside counsel to assist the military-provided advocate, Capt. Leone.

Most defendants also don’t have Sgt. Allmon’s stellar background. In his 19 years of service, he won numerous national awards for his photography as well as honors for doing his job under hostile conditions, such as in Afghanistan, where he came under fire and saw soldiers around him killed.

“Next time, there won’t be someone like Lisa, there won’t be someone like me there, there won’t be someone like Aaron,” said Ms. Hermosa. “Can you imagine some little guy from Podunk going on trial without any of that? That guy is toast.”

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