A former Guantánamo guard being discharged instead of facing a sexual-assault trial did avert a detainee’s suicide around the time of last year’s prison camp raid that put hunger strikers under lockdown, the military confirmed.
Army Col. Greg Julian, a spokesman for Southern Command, could not identify the detainee who tried to kill himself. Nor could he pinpoint the exact date of the deed in April 2013 that won Sgt. Stevontae Lacefield, 24, his Joint Service Commendation Medal.
Separately, Julian said that Lacefield was leaving the Army with an “other than honorable” discharge and demotion to the lowest enlisted grade, rather than a general discharge, as a U.S. Army spokesman had earlier reported.
The Pentagon awards the medal to troops who distinguish themselves by meritorious achievement or service on an assignment sponsored by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Guantánamo prison mission qualifies because the 2,100-strong staff assigned to the detention center — that, as of Tuesday housed 154 war-on-terror captives — is a mix of members of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines as well as federally employed civilians.
In the instance of Lacefield, “He observed a detainee attempting to asphyxiate himself and he intervened and prevented him from committing suicide,” Julian said from Southcom on Monday. Julian said Lacefield saved the life of the unidentified detainee, who in turn “was put on watch” as a suicide risk.
Lacefield told the Herald he won the medal around the time of the April 13 raid, when troops in riot gear charged inside a prison building before dawn and locked down dozens of prisoners in what the Southern Command spokesman called a “reset” of prison hunger-strike handling policy. Five captives were hurt, the military said at the time, but none were hospitalized.
The description of Lacefield’s meritorious achievement left unclear the exact circumstances of the attempted suicide. The military said last April, after the raid, that two detainees had attempted suicide.
The prison emerged from the raid with more than 100 prisoners in single-cell lockdown, and the guard force careening between “Code Yellows” — a guard’s alert that a prisoner may be trying to hurt himself in his cell.