- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 25, 2019

A military judge has bucked a two-star general by throwing out a sexual assault case against a sergeant at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida.

Col. W. Shane Cohen, the judge, made a rare decision in the military criminal justice system by specifically citing the actions of Maj. Gen. Stephen N. Whiting, the court-martial’s convening authority, or overseer, as the reason he dismissed all charges against Tech. Sgt. Keith A. Snyder.

In a 13-page decision, Col. Cohen chastised Gen. Whiting for refusing to require the women who accused Sgt. Snyder of assault to turn over their social media communications and devices sought by defense attorneys. The prosecution issued subpoenas, but Gen. Whiting ordered lawyers not to enforce them.

“Once the GCMCA [Gen. Whiting] directed the trial counsel not to enforce their subpoenas, the government abdicated its obligations to the justice system,” Col. Cohen ruled in his Aug. 22 decision, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times.

Col. Cohen said Sgt. Snyder, a 20-year airman seeking to retire, could not obtain a fair trial.

Gen. Whiting leads the 14th Air Force, a component of Space Command at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. On the East Coast, Patrick air base manages military space rocket launches at Cape Canaveral.

DOCUMENT: Read the judge's ruling in TSgt. Keith Snyder's case

Maj. Cody Chiles, 14th Air Force spokesman, said in a statement to The Washington Times that the force “is committed to providing the maximum support possible to all victims of sexual assault while ensuring due process” and defended the general’s actions as Defense Department policy on handling sex assault victims.

“In this case, Maj. Gen. Whiting supported issuing subpoenas to seek to retrieve all relevant information in the case. However, DoD policy is to generally honor the wishes of a victim regarding participation or non-participation in a prosecution. Seizing this evidence without the victims’ consent would have been inconsistent with this policy,” Maj. Chiles said.

He added that the general went ahead with the prosecution because “the victims offered to provide additional evidence in response to the subpoena,” which meant that the general believed “there was sufficient reason to proceed with a trial.”

The general’s decision to side with the alleged victims comes amid an ongoing push by feminists and overseers at the Pentagon to crack down on sexual misconduct in the ranks and heed abuse complaints.

Aaron G. Meyer, Sgt. Snyder’s civilian defense attorney, told The Times that sexual abuse “politics” have played a role in bringing charges as commanders look over their shoulders at Washington.

Mr. Meyer said that already-obtained social media postings show that the three women formed an alliance and conspired to bring trumped-up charges against Sgt. Snyder after he ended his relationships with them. He said they planned to celebrate together after they had destroyed the airman.

Sgt. Snyder is a single dad with two daughters. His wife, Jessica, died in 2015.

“The government’s failure in this case was that they blindly entertained the accusations of these three colluding and fundamentally dishonest accusers from Day One without any meaningful or critical analysis of their claims or past deception,” Mr. Meyer told The Times.

“In doing so, they provided a platform for these three to indulge in what they called their own #MeToo movement, all while planning a cruise once they took him down,” he said.

He said that pre-trial investigations showed they were destroying and altering evidence.

“This case is a prime example of the perverse consequences that result from a blanket ‘believe the accuser’ policy,” the attorney said. “People are falsely accused of sexual assault in the military, especially now in the environment that incentivizes accusation. Decent people do not want to believe that vindictive and self-motivated people like this exist in our society or the military, but they do.”

Mr. Meyer said the three accusers are a civilian, a former Air Force enlisted woman and a currently enlisted woman.

Col. Cohen dismissed the charges “with prejudice,” meaning the Air Force cannot bring them again. But it can appeal his decision to the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals.

Mr. Meyer said on Monday that prosectors informed him they will not appeal the dismissal. 

Gen. Whiting cannot take adverse actions against the judge because the Air Force operates a separate judiciary system, Mr. Meyer said.

Col. Cohen went to great lengths to criticize Gen. Whiting. The judge explained how the military justice system demands that the government provide a defendant with evidence, especially material that could be exculpatory.

“In this case, the accused’s defense now rests on the good will of his accusers,” he wrote. “This simply is not and cannot be the law. Once the GCMCA directed the trial counsel not to enforce their subpoenas, the government abdicated its obligations to the justice system. Rather than complying with its discovery obligations, even if that decision might not be popular, the government chose instead to subjugate the rights of the accused to the inclinations of interested witnesses.”

Col. Cohen also singled out the accusers’ conduct, protecting their identities by using initials. He wrote of the strong influence they exert over Air Force decision-makers: “The three alleged victims have openly discussed a desire to bring down the accused, have shared messages of their intent to do so and have even talked about celebrating his conviction in this case.

“At least two of the accusers have taken steps that could result in financial and/or professional benefit, at least in part, from the allegations in this case,” the judge ruled.

“CP has continued to make public postings about this case, make public comments about defense counsel, seek personal interviews with the convening authorities, seek redress from Congress and put pressure on the United States to prosecute this case. One of the initial prosecutors in this case was removed in large part, due to concerns raised by CP, and counsel outside the base legal office were then assigned to this case.

“The government does not believe CP, CN and DF have provided all information required by court order and the trial counsel subpoenas. The alleged victims indicating that they have provided all they are willing to provide is not the same thing as having fully complied with the court orders and subpoenas,” Col. Cohen wrote.

Mr. Meyer said one jilted accuser purchased hard-to-trace burner phones and used them to create fake profiles on dating apps to try to entice Sgt. Snyder.

The alleged victim “started to use ‘up to 80’ [her testimony on the record in December] different profiles, some her own, most aliases and imaginary friends, to contact any and every suspected ex-girlfriend, love interest, family member, even women who ‘liked his photos’ on social media. If they responded, she would detail sexual acts, send naked photos, and past text screenshots, saying he was cheating on them, had just been diagnosed with an STD, or any number of other slanderous attacks,” the defense attorney said. “We uncovered approximately 38 people that she contacted in this campaign in 2017, months before any rape claim.”

After Sgt. Snyder broke off the relationship and had blocked the woman on social media, she texted, “I’m on my way there, you can ignore me all you want, you will have to face me to do it … you cant quit me.”

Archives at Patrick air base contain several stories on Sgt. Snyder that portray him as a model enlisted man. One is headlined “Honoring women of our past.” The celebration included “Women’s History Month Obstacle Course,” during which Sgt. Snyder, a volunteer, set up one of the tasks — changing a tire.

“This is a common task for ‘Dirt Boyz’ and I often forget that not everyone knows how to do it,” the airman said.

“Dirt Boyz” is a nickname for an engineering squadron.

There is also a photograph of Sgt. Snyder and colleagues delivering cookies in 2013 to dormitory airmen. There is another photo of him posing with the Junior Enlisted Advisory Council.

• Rowan Scarborough can be reached at rscarborough@washingtontimes.com.

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