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Fort Sill maintains information blackout in wake of child sex abuse charges

After taking command of Fort Sill in May, Maj. Gen. James “Mark” McDonald instituted a series of policies that severely limits public access to information about soldiers accused of crimes.
by Phillip O'Connor Published: January 14, 2013

One of four Fort Sill soldiers accused in the past seven months of sexual misconduct with a child is scheduled for trial Jan. 23.

1st Lt. Michael A. Chambers faces several charges, including sexual contact with a child under the age of 12 and sodomy.

The fort's commander, Maj. Gen. James “Mark” McDonald, declined to comment on the spate of such cases at the state's largest military installation. And continuing a policy McDonald implemented shortly after he took command last year, the post also declined to publicly release any information about the upcoming criminal proceedings.

In July, Sgt. Jason Harrod was convicted on charges including aggravated sexual assault after he impregnated his teenage foster daughter. Harrod was sentenced to 28 years confinement, reduction to the lowest rank and a dishonorable discharge.

Sgt. 1st Class James D. Gallup, is scheduled for trial later this month while the court-martial of Pfc. Christopher P. Havlock is set for March. Both face charges involving victims under the age of 12. Havlock's attorney declined to comment. The attorney representing both Chambers and Gallup did not return several phone calls.

In 2012, only 25 soldiers were court-martialed Army-wide on sexual assault charges involving a victim younger than 12. Three were acquitted.

The number of soldiers tried in civilian courts on similar charges could not immediately be determined. Soldiers convicted of sexual misconduct can be required to register as sex offenders.

Series of policies

After taking command of Fort Sill in May, McDonald instituted a series of policies that severely limits public access to information about soldiers accused of crimes.

In November, citing “firm guidance” from the chain of command, the fort's public affairs office announced it no longer would make “charge sheets” available until after a court-martial's conclusion.

Charge sheets contain basic information about a defendant, such as their name, rank and time in service, as well as some basic facts about the alleged crime.

The new policy is equivalent to a civilian court refusing to provide detailed charges against a defendant until after a trial is completed.

Even then, some of the information, including the names of witnesses, co-conspirators and victims is redacted.

Retired Maj. Gen. John Altenburg, former deputy judge advocate general of the Army, said work is under way at the Pentagon to develop policies governing the public release of charge sheets. Currently, only the Navy has a policy, which calls for charge sheets to be released at arraignment, he said.

“I don't know what the circumstances are at Fort Sill, but I believe generally that transparency in these matters is important for the system,'' said Altenburg, who oversaw more than 1,800 military and civilian attorneys and 3,000 National Guard and Army Reserve attorneys worldwide.

“It's important so that the citizens we represent and the citizens we defend understand how our process works and that it is, in fact, fair and just. I'm proud of the system. It's a good system, and there's no reason to hide it.”

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by Phillip O'Connor
Enterprise Editor
O'Connor joined the Oklahoman staff in June, 2012 after working at The Kansas City Star and St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a combined 28 years. O'Connor, an Oklahoma City resident, is a graduate of Kansas State University. He has written frequently...
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