Former West Point cadet Susan Shannon took to her blog in 2013 to recount the story of being raped by a fellow cadet in 1986 while at the military academy.
Her accusation came amid a storm of press coverage about the prominence of sexual assault in the military, and it led to a criminal investigation and the end of the fellow cadet’s Army career.
The problem, a Virginia court found on Aug. 1, is that it wasn’t true, and in naming the colonel whom she claimed raped her, she defamed him to the tune of $8.4 million, the Associated Press reported Aug. 11
A Fairfax County jury sided with retired Col. David ”Wil” Riggins, who filed a lawsuit in Virginia district court back in 2014, when it became apparent that he would lose his nomination for promotion to one-star general after Shannon’s post came to the attention of Army leadership. The post also led the Army to launch a criminal investigation.
“The allegations of rape were investigated by U.S. Army [Criminal Investigation Command], and it was determined that there was no testimonial or physical evidence to corroborate Defendant Susan Shannon‘s statements concern Colonel David W. Riggins,” according to the lawsuit.
Shannon alleged in a post on her Wordpress blog, “Short Little Rebel,” that Riggins raped her after she‘d blacked out from drinking beer at Eisenhower Hall on campus.
“I felt the need to tell the story about a rape of a soldier I personally know: that soldier is me,” she wrote on July 15, 2013. ”The man who raped me, Will riggings [sic], class of 1987, is now a Colonel in the Army. The rape is the reason I left West Point. So, while his military career is soaring, I left mine far behind.”
In his filing, Riggins poked holes in her story, arguing that cadets are never served beer on campus and, at the time, were not allowed to drink at all. He also said he did not have a car and couldn’t have had one on campus to drive her home that night, as she alleged.
“When pressed on the details as to what happened, Susan Shannon does not state that she actually recalls the alleged rape by David W. Riggins,” according to the complaint. ”Rather, she only asserts that she woke up the next morning and concluded that she had sexual intercourse with someone the night before.”
In reality, according to the lawsuit, Riggins said the two had dated briefly, and that she had left West Point to pursue medical school.
The jury agreed that Shannon had defamed Riggins with her blog post, damaging his career and livelihood with her posts about the rape.
The court ordered her to pay him $3.4 million in compensation, with another $5 million on top in punitive damages.
Under Virginia law, the AP reported, her actual damages will probably top out at $2.3 million. Her attorneys are planning an appeal.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members. Follow on Twitter @Meghann_MT