MADISON, Wis. — Two Democratic senators demanded Wednesday that Army officials open an investigation into allegations that commanders of an Illinois-based reserve unit mishandled sexual assault complaints and protocols.
Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth sent a letter to Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy citing an Associated Press story last week about allegations that leaders in the 416th Theater Engineer Command had improperly opened internal investigations into at least two complaints, suspended a victim advocate after she alerted Army criminal investigators of the probes and placed a victim on a firing range with someone she had accused of sexual harassment, causing her to fear for her life.
“We urge you to pursue a comprehensive review of the troubling charges brought to light by this article and provide clarity on any ongoing Army investigation into handling of sexual assault claims by the 416th,” the senators wrote.
No one immediately responded to an email seeking comment that was sent to the Secretary of the Army’s general media inbox. The 416th’s spokesman, Jason Proseus, also didn’t immediately respond to an email.
The 416th provides technical and engineering support for U.S. military forces. It serves as the headquarters for nearly 11,000 soldiers in 26 states west of the Mississippi River.
Amy Braley Franck, a civilian victim advocate with the 416th, provided the AP with documents that show the command launched internal investigations into at least two sexual assault cases, one in 2018 and another last year. Federal law and Department of Defense policy require that commanders refer sexual assault complaints to criminal investigators in their respective branches in a effort to ensure unbiased investigations.
Commanders who don’t follow proper channels can face reprimand, removal from command or a court martial. Internal sexual assault investigations cost the Wisconsin National Guard’s top commander, Adj. Gen. Donald Dunbar, his job in December. He resigned that month at Gov. Tony Evers’ request after a federal probe determined that he had been launching internal investigations rather than forwarding complaints to the National Guard Bureau.
Braley Franck also provided documents that show she took a call from a female private in November. The woman was concerned that she was being sent to the range for a live-fire exercise alongside the subject of her sexual harassment complaint and she feared for her safety.
Braley Franck said she relayed the woman’s concerns to the 416th’s sexual assault response coordinator, Regina Taylor, who responded by saying “Hmm hmm, well, I guess we will just wait and see and hope for the best” before hanging up.
Braley Franck also alleged the 416th went months without holding a sexual assault management meeting, even though the Defense Department requires such meetings every month to ensure that victims are protected and can access services. And she said the unit operated for 10 months without a sexual assault response coordinator. Such coordinators ensure that victims receive services such as medical care and counseling, and they help them navigate the military criminal justice system.
Braley Franck referred both of the 416th’s internal investigations to the Army’s Criminal Investigations Division in June. Her commanders suspended her in November in what Braley Franck said was retaliation for reporting the internal probes.
The senators asked McCarthy to look closely at any allegations of reprisal as part of the Army’s review.