sexually assaulted or raped ten trainees
An Air Force basic training instructor who is at the center of a growing scandal involving sexual harassment and intimidation of female recruits at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas today was sentenced to 20 years in prison for rape and sexual assault.
The sentence was handed down by a seven member panel of Air Force officers and enlisted personnel who could have sentenced Staff Sergeant Luis Walker, who was convicted late Friday on all 28 counts he was facing, to anywhere from probation to life in prison.
Six men and one woman were on the panel.
Walker was also ordered reduced in rank to the lowest rank in the Air Force, forfeit all pay and allowances, and given a Dishonorable Discharge.
Walker was convicted of engaging in inappropriate sexual conduct with ten separate recruits who were among the trainees he was supervising. Four of the women claimed Walker used his authority over their military careers to intimidate them into engaging in sexual activity, the others said Walker's attentions included everything from unwanted hugging and kissing to making comments to them like 'you should be naked.'
The court martial heard from Walker's mother, step father, and wife during today's punishment phase, all of whom talked about his strong character and urged the panel to hand him a lighter sentence. But several women whom Walker was convicted of sexually assaulting told the panel how his conduct has disrupted their relationships and damaged their ability to trust in authority figures.
Walker displayed little emotion when the sentence was read, but his relatives, who have remained in the small courtroom throughout the week long trial, began to cry.
"This sends a strong signal that this kind of behavior is absolutely unacceptable and will not be tolerated," said Susan Pamerleau, a retired Air Force Major General and a former Vice Commander of the Air Force Basic Training Program. "I am pleased at how quickly this has happened. The Air Force became aware of this problem, addressed it, filed charges, and has brought in a very capable general officer to address this issue."
Jeffrey Addicott, who is a former Senior Legal Adviser to the U.S. Army Special Forces and is currently a law professor at St. Mary's University, agreed.
"This will serve as a deterrent to future misconduct," Addicott said. "There will be a heavy price to pay for this type of conduct and abuse of trust."
Addicott expects four other Military Training Instructors at Lackland Air Force Base to now consider pleading guilty.
Joint Base San Antonio spokesman Brent Boller says Walker was immediately taken into custody following the sentence, and he says he will be held in a jail at Lackland while his case is automatically appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.
Walker will also have to register as a sex offender, Boller said.
Boller said the Naval Consolidated Brig, a military prison in San Diego where the soldiers convicted in the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq were housed, has a unit for sex offenders, and would be the logical place for Walker to spend his sentence, but his ultimate destination will be up to the courts. He said the Uniform Code of Military Justice does include the possibility of parole.
Addicott and Pamerleau agreed that the conviction and sentence will help the Air Force convince Congress and the American people that officials are getting control of the sex with recruits scandal. A total of 12 basic training MTIs have been either charged or notified they are under investigation, 35 Sergeants and one Lieutenant Colonel have been removed from their positions in basic training squadrons, and 31 women have come forward to say they have been victims of inappropriate sexual behavior at the hands of their MTI. More than seventy member of Congress have signed a letter demanding hearings into the issue of how women are treated during military basic training, and what changes need to be made to insure the smooth integration of women into the Armed Forces.