A retired Green Beret colonel could lose his Special Forces tab, as his civilian criminal case over kidnapping and domestic violence charges took a turn last week when the former officer’s defense attorney exposed the names, ages and an address for the prosecutor’s children, who are also victims of domestic violence, according to court documents.
Col. Owen Ray’s attorney also exposed the dates of birth and other identifying information for Ray’s own children, who are victims and witnesses in the ongoing case, through an “unintentional oversight,” the defense acknowledged in court filings.
Ray, a former 1st Special Forces Group commander, faces trial in Pierce County, Washington, on charges stemming from an hours-long armed police standoff in December 2020. During the standoff, Ray allegedly held his family hostage at gunpoint, put on his boots to stomp his wife’s face and chest in front of their children, and threatened to kill police and himself.
The Army quietly allowed Ray, who last served as chief of staff of the Joint Base Lewis-McChord-based I Corps, to retire on Sept. 30 with an honorable discharge.
“Many people [in the special operations community] generally aren’t happy with the outcome” of Ray’s military discipline, explained a source directly familiar with the move to revoke Ray’s Special Forces tab and Green Beret. “The perception is that he got off scot free...whereas a [staff sergeant] in his position would have gotten fried.”
Special Forces officials “initiated tab revocation in recent weeks,” the source said. Ray has approximately two weeks to appeal the decision to Maj. Gen. Thomas Drew, the chief of Human Resources Command.
According to Army awards regulations, the commander of the Special Warfare Center and School can revoke the tab and beret if a soldier “has committed any act or engaged in any conduct inconsistent with the integrity, professionalism, and conduct of a SF Soldier.” The regulation isn’t clear on who initiates that action for a retiree, though.
According to the source, 1st Special Forces Command created an internal policy in 2021 to initiate tab revocation for domestic violence incidents, sexual assaults and gun crime.
Ray’s attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding the retired officer’s Special Forces tab.
A botched court filing
Ray’s attorney and former Pierce County prosecutor Jared Ausserer also had to revise and redact a recent, 256-page motion filed Jan. 26 asking the judge to disqualify one of the prosecutors on the case.
Ray’s defense team was attempting to disqualify Pierce County deputy prosecutor Coreen Schnepf because her conduct has been biased, according to the motion. The defense questioned her objectivity because Schnepf is a victim of domestic violence herself, according to a press kit on Ray’s website and the motion.
Ray faces more than two decades in prison if convicted of his alleged crimes — first degree kidnapping, two counts of second degree assault, two counts of felony harassment and reckless endangerment. According to court documents, Schnepf offered a plea deal to Ray that would give him roughly eight years in prison.
The former Green Beret’s defense team pointed at charges and sentences in other domestic violence cases and said the initial plea deal offered to Ray was unfair. Prosecutors called that assertion “disingenuous” in their Feb. 4 response because it left out subsequent negotiations.
“This motion has nothing to do with…[Schnepf’s] conduct,” said Mary Robnett, Pierce County’s top prosecutor, in court filings. “The real issue here is Ray is unwilling to accept the statutory consequences of his conduct.”
Robnett also condemned Ausserer for “interject[ing] the names and ages of [Schnepf’s] children for no legitimate purpose.”
After Army Times asked a representative for Ausserer and Ray why the children’s information was listed in the public filings, the defense asked the judge to seal the motion to disqualify Schnepf pending redactions to the documents.
The defense attorney said in a Feb. 7 sworn statement that the failure to redact personal information from the motion’s supporting documents was an “unintentional oversight,” and Judge Stanley Rumbaugh granted the request to seal. But the redacted documents had been available to the public for 12 days before Ausserer filed that request.
“Any attachments I filed in that motion were...provided in response to a public records request,” Ausserer told Army Times in a Friday voicemail. “I took steps to...redact that information out as a courtesy to the prosecutor.”
In his memorandum included with the original motion, Ausserer said in his own words that the children of Ray and Schnepf “are similar in age and both of their sons are named [redacted by Army Times].”
A press kit available for download on Ray’s website also includes the children’s shared name. A new, redacted version of the motion, which Ausserer filed Feb. 8, removed the shared name.
Ray’s PR campaign
Despite the filing misstep, Ray’s public relations campaign has gained ground in recent months. A litigation communications firm, ANACHEL Communications, sent out a press release and fielded media inquiries on Ray’s behalf.
Ray wrote an article in November asserting that his breakdown and actions were “from the cumulative impact of untreated mental and physical health issues, operational and career stress across a career in SOF.”
The next month, according to public records, Ray’s team registered a sleek new website detailing his story and mental health resources that includes “testimonials” from former colleagues, though it’s not clear where the quotes originate.
One purported endorsement comes from former President Barack Obama, for whom Ray carried the “nuclear football” for more than two years.
Later in December, the editorial board of the Tacoma News-Tribune argued that “regardless of what you think of Ray or his alleged crimes, the issues he describes in his op-ed — including the need to address military mental health, reduce stigma and rethink warrior culture — demand our attention.”
Robnett, the Pierce County prosecutor, argued that the case should be settled at trial if Ray’s team isn’t satisfied with plea offers.
“[Ray] does not have the right to dictate what charges he faces,” she said in the state’s response. “But he does have the right to proceed to trial. This Court should deny his motion so the case may proceed to trial.”
Ray’s trial is tentatively scheduled to begin March 23.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army. He focuses on investigations, personnel concerns and military justice. Davis, also a Guard veteran, was a finalist in the 2023 Livingston Awards for his work with The Texas Tribune investigating the National Guard's border missions. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill.