Is There a Fort Bliss Sexual Assault Cover Up
(Author’s note: The following is a special report based on official documents, audio recordings and email interviews. Because of the nature of the topic, some material may be inappropriate for some readers.)
On July 4, 2016, a 23-year old pregnant woman arrived at the University Medical Center (UMC) hospital complaining of abdominal and back pain. The patient, who was transported by EMS to the hospital, alleged that she had been sexually assaulted by her boyfriend. The alleged sexual assault allegedly happened at the barracks on Fort Bliss. The patient is a civilian who is married to another soldier who was on active duty status during the alleged assault. The alleged attacker is a Fort Bliss-stationed military policeman, who is not married to the alleged victim.
According to the alleged victim, the military police sergeant allegedly slapped her, threw her against the bed post and sexually assaulted her. The alleged sexual assault happened at 900 Pleasanton at Fort Bliss, where the military police sergeant resides. According to the complaining woman, both the military policeman and her had been carrying on an affair. The complaining woman also stated that she had been living at the barracks with the military policeman since “mid March through June”. She had a key to his room at the barracks that she used.
When the alleged victim was questioned by an assistant county attorney as to why she was allowed to stay at the barracks, her response was that the sergeant was the “barracks NCO” and “he could do whatever he wanted.” According to the alleged victim, she “never signed in” to the barracks.
As a result of the ensuing loud argument, after the alleged assault, another soldier who overheard the commotion, summoned military police to the barracks. The military sergeant, who is the alleged assailant, also called his MP friends resulting in two sets of military policemen responding to the alleged sexual assault.
This is not the first time that military police had responded to the scene involving both the civilian woman and the sergeant. On February 9, both the woman and the sergeant were both arrested at Fort Bliss with both claiming self-defense in a domestic violence incident. The alleged victim also said that she called the police on January 20 for assault, but later dropped the charges.
Currently the alleged victim is pregnant with the alleged attacker’s baby. Her husband, who is no longer in the military after completing six years of service, is still with his wife and cannot “believe how unjustified the military law enforcement and leadership” have been in dealing with his wife’s case.
Sexual assault cases are difficult because of the circumstances involved. They are especially more difficult when it involves a married woman who is involved with her alleged assailant. Typically, the cases become a “he said, she said” case where the facts are difficult to ascertain. A sexual assault case is best left for the courts to adjudicate based on the evidence provided.
Today’s article is not about the alleged sexual assault, although it is an important element, but rather the subsequent actions that have occurred. It is the actions of Fort Bliss officials that need to be discussed because they do not conform to the standards of investigative fairness. Obviously, for the alleged victim it is about getting her day in court.
The US military has been under scrutiny for their handling of sexual assault cases on military bases. As a result of the scrutiny there have been attempts to make the reporting of sexual assaults and harassment in the military more transparent. According to a September 2016 report of 2015 military cases of sexual assault, in 2015 the conviction rate for a sex offence was only 9%. Over 20,000 military members were sexually assaulted in 2014, according to military reports. Less than 600 were prosecuted in 2015 on sexual assault charges.
Normally I do not publish the names of alleged sexual assault victims but in this case, Shalei Bushey has explicitly given me permission to use her name. Mrs. Bushey contacted me last month asking for help in exposing her case to the public. Mrs. Bushey hopes that by sharing her story that the “public awareness may bring more justice” and that she just “wants to be left alone” by the alleged attacker.
The United States Army has a program named SHARP that deals with sexual assaults and harassment in the military. SHARP is an acronym for “Sexual Harassment/Assault Response & Prevention”. Additionally, the US military has specific codes of conduct under which its members must adhere to.
There are two issues involved in this case, besides the alleged sexual assault. The first is the issue of the relationship between Mrs. Bushey and her alleged attacker. According to the information provided by Mrs. Bushey, she was married while spending nights at the Fort Bliss barracks with the military policeman. She alleges that the soldier, she was staying with, was fully aware of her marital status. Many readers may assume that there is a specific regulation that prohibits military members from adulterous affairs. The reality is that under military law, adultery is a banned behavior that falls under the general prohibition against “bringing discredit” to the military.
Generally, there are three elements that must be proven in a court martial for adultery. The first is that a sexual encounter was had. The second is that the soldier was married and the third is that the activity could bring “discredit upon the armed forces.”
One of the best known cases of adultery in the military was in 1997. Lieutenant Kelly Flinn, the first US female service woman to fly a B-52 bomber, left the military after having an adulterous affair with the husband of an enlisted military subordinate. Lt. Flinn, who was honorably discharged after avoiding a court martial, was prosecuted on numerous charges. The most serious charge was for lying to superior officers and disobeying lawful orders. The military normally handles adultery at the lowest possible level, instead of the more severe court martial level. In the case of Flinn, a court martial was convened only after she disobeyed an order to stay away from the married boyfriend. That is the normal process for handling adultery in the military environment. The prosecution is based on the welfare of the military structure.
Letters of reprimand, official orders to stay away from each other or censures are normally the way charges of adultery are handled within the military. Court martials are rare and are usually the result of lying to military officials or disobeying orders to cease the activity. Typically, the publicized cases of adultery in the military are the result of escalating violations by the perpetrators.
In the Fort Bliss case, the alleged sexual assault is not the first time both individuals have had an encounter resulting in police intervention. As you read further you will see that there are also the issues of other violations of rules, procedures and, more importantly, how Ft. Bliss officials seem to have handled this allegation of a sexual assault on base. This is the second, and the most important issue that needs to be addressed in this case.
Fort Bliss Sergeant James Pippen has allegedly assaulted Mrs. Bushey on at least three occasions, according to Bushey. Mrs. Bushey has acknowledged an affair with Sgt. Pippen and has acknowledged living at the Ft. Bliss barracks in Pippen’s room for a number of months. This is an apparent violation of the rules. Bushey alleged that on July 4, Pippen sexually assaulted her at the barracks. Mrs. Bushey is currently pregnant with Pippen’s child, which was conceived about five months prior to the alleged sexual assault. Sgt. Pippen is a member of the 93rd Military Police Battalion at Ft. Bliss.
The US military’s SHARP program tells victims of sexual assaults to contact the local Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC) that is available 24 hours, seven days a week. At that point, under the SHARP protocol, two types of reporting are initiated – a restricted or an unrestricted one. A restricted report is privileged and confidential. However, if an alleged victim contacts the chain of command or law enforcement then the reporting of the incident becomes unrestricted. Unrestricted does not mean that the records of the alleged assault are automatically publicized, but rather that the allegation of assault is processed through the bureaucracy with the alleged attacker, the chain of command and the alleged victim all participating in the process.
Mrs. Bushey’s sexual assault outcry was made at UMC and she subsequently involved the Ft. Bliss law enforcement and the chain of command. Thus, her sexual assault outcry falls under the “unrestricted” reporting type and confidentially and privilege do not apply in her case.
According to the nurse’s notes, created at the time of her intake by UMC staff, the incident was being treated as a sexual assault. The UMC staff called the El Paso Police Department to alert them of an alleged sexual assault and EPPD referred them to Ft. Bliss. When UMC staff contacted Ft. Bliss, they were told that Ft. Bliss had already been notified of the incident and that Ft. Bliss military police “would not be coming to [the] hospital for [the] report.” Additionally, Ft. Bliss officials told the UMC nurse that the patient, Mrs. Bushey, “would need to follow up” with Ft. Bliss officials directly.
A follow up call was placed to Ft. Bliss officials by UMC staff and after speaking to a Ft. Bliss investigator, Mrs. Bushey was finally interviewed in Triag at UMC by military officials. According to the medical records, it took two calls from UMC medical staff to Ft. Bliss to get them to respond to the hospital to process Mrs. Bushey.
In a letter dated August 30, 2016, County Attorney, Gabriella Reed, acting on her own behalf and not officially on the behalf of the County Attorney’s office, wrote to the Inspector General at Ft. Bliss with concerns about the Bushey case. Although Reed had officially represented Bushey in a protective case order against Pippen, in the letter Reed specifically writes that she is writing the letter as “an Attorney” and as a “military spouse.”
In the letter, Reed wrote that “SHARP cases and how they are a priority for command is not a philosophy that is embraced by the leadership of the 72nd Military Police Detachment, and the Criminal Investigation Division” at Ft. Bliss.
Reed writes that her perception of the case is that the Bushey case was “not handled in an appropriate manner” and that the leadership of the “72nd Military Police Detachment and CID failed to do the right thing by conducting a proper investigation.” Reed adds that her purpose in writing the letter is to ensure that “Mrs. Bushey is not lost in the system…and to ensure that the base leadership has an opportunity to look into this matter and determine if in fact this SHARP case was handled in an appropriate manner.”
On July 6, two days after the alleged sexual assault, Sgt. Pippen was ordered to have no communications with Mrs. Bushey. The order was issued by the Detachment Commander, Cpt. Edwards via a “no contact order” on a “Development Counseling Form.” The order ordered Pippen to have no contact, except through a “third party and only in reference” to his child.
After the alleged sexual assault, Mrs. Bushey was assigned a “special victim advocate” as per the SHARP protocol. The advocate was withdrawn by the Army on August 1, after Bushey’s husband left the Army. Bushey was told that she was no longer eligible for the services of the special victim advocate because her husband was no longer a member of the military.
Mrs. Bushey was left alone to navigate the Ft. Bliss bureaucracy in pursuing her case against Sgt. Pippen.
In an attempt to secure a protective order, Bushey attempted to get copies of the military police reports in July. According to Bushey she was told that the reports were “not ready”. Bushey also attempted to get copies of the report from military officials for the February incident in which she, and Pippen were both arrested on domestic violence charges at Ft. Bliss. According to Bushey, military officials provided her with the incorrect case number initially and told her there were no reports for the incident in which she was arrested. Only after a private attorney got involved, did Mrs. Bushey receive the correct police report number.
Additionally, Mrs. Bushey had told Army investigators that she has numerous audio recordings between her and Pippen. Initially Army investigators refused to listen to the tapes. Sometime later, CID Special Agent Whal threatened Bushey with taking away her telephone for an indefinite period of time through a subpoena, if she did not immediately share the recordings with him. By this time, Bushey had been advised by Reed, the county attorney helping her with the protective order, to do whatever she pleased with the recordings. Reed had also informed the CID investigator that Reed would include him in her “IG complaint” because of his “unpleasant and obstinate” attitude with the attorney.
Gabriela Reed wrote, in her letter, that her perspective “as an attorney, a military spouse, a victim advocate and an American voter is that the 72 Military Police Detachment, and the CID at Ft Bliss still has failed to get it right when it comes to SHARP.”
Mrs. Bushey alleges that because Sgt. Pippen is a military policeman at Ft. Bliss, both the army’s criminal investigation division and the post’s military police have attempted to block her allegations of a sexual attack on the military post. Bushey acknowledges staying in the barracks with Pippen because Pippen controlled access to the barracks where he resides. Yet, Bushey states that no apparent disciplinary action has been taken by military officials for this apparent violation.
Although, Mrs. Bushey eventually received some of the reports she has asked the Army for, she has yet to receive copies of all of the records she needs for her to pursue her case through the legal system. Mrs. Bushey contends that a cover up is being used to protect Sgt. Pippen and that a proper investigation is yet to be conducted by Army officials. She feels that the Ft. Bliss hierarchy refuses to take her allegations seriously and have blocked her attempts to access her records, both for her arrest on the domestic violence case or on the status of the case against Sgt. Pippen for her alleged sexual assault.