Military resolves guard’s sex assault case with discharge

 

crosenberg@MiamiHerald.com

A former Guantánamo prison camp guard is being permitted to quit the Army rather than face a sex-assault trial, the military said Friday.

Army Sgt. Stevontae Lacefield, 24, told The Miami Herald from Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio that on Monday the military notified him that all charges related to his case were dropped.

He had a trial set for April 7-10 before an Army major. But by Friday his case was removed from the Fort Sam Houston trial judiciary docket.

“What this means is, instead of going to trial and court martial he’s allowed to undergo separation from the military,” said Army Col. Hans Bush, spokesman for U.S. Army South in San Antonio.

In another case, 1st Sgt. Richard A. Smith goes on trial next week. He is accused of raping a sergeant in January 2013 as well as sexually assaulting two other women at the base several months later.

The cases are being handled in Texas because Army South, a subsidiary of the U.S. Southern Command, is the bureaucracy that manages personnel matters for soldiers assigned to the 2,100-staff detention center in southeast Cuba which as of Friday held 154 captives.

Army Maj. Gen. Joseph P. DiSalvo, the commanding officer of Army South, approved the arrangement that averted a criminal trial for Lacefield, Bush said. DiSalvo had earlier approved the prosecution based on a pretrial proceeding called an Article 32.

Lacefield, whose Army specialty is Military Policeman, got to Guantánamo in September 2012 from the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii. He joined the Army in 2007, served twice in Iraq and described himself as a father of four.

“In my entire career I’ve been nothing but a good soldier,” he told the Herald Friday, disclosing the resolution of his case short of a trial. He declined to describe his specific Guantánamo duties but said that during last year’s Camp 6 raid that put hunger strikers on lockdown, he saved the life of a detainee and received a Joint Service Commendation Medal.

At the time of the raid, held before dawn on April 13 by troops in riot gear firing rubber pellets, U.S. military accounts offered descriptions of brief skirmishes between troops and captives and five injured captives, none serious enough to require hospitalization. At the U.S. Southern Command, which had oversight of the prison, Army Col. Greg Julian said he was unaware of any episode of the type Lacefield described but was researching it.

Lacefield will leave the Army with a “general discharge,” a status that will deny him certain veterans benefits.

“It’s certainly not a good deal for anyone,” said Bush. “He is certainly not facing the same benefits he would if he were discharged with an honorable discharge.”

Bush added that he was not privy to the circumstances that averted this particular trial. But, he said, typically alleged victims are consulted. “I can say with great confidence everyone involved was consulted before the decision was made.”

Lacefield was facing trial on charges alleging he had groped a specialist who resisted him in May 2013 in his quarters as well as “wrongfully pursuing personal and sexual relationships” with four different privates in a 10-month span at the remote base. He was also accused of allowing an under-aged private to drink liquor.

One of Lacefield’s alleged abuse-of-power instances was described as occurring on a cellblock at the prison.

In a telephone call to the Herald, Lacefield said he believed the U.S. military had treated him fairly but that he had “absolutely not” abused his power over junior soldiers.

Meanwhile, the detention center is carrying out a local investigation of a separate allegation of sexual assault by a sailor assigned to its staff.

Read more Guantánamo stories from the Miami Herald

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