In one interview after another, Generals and Colonels spoke of their pride in the institution, their determination to restore honor and their sympathy for the victimized female cadets. Some mentioned they have daughters and granddaughters themselves.
“I am deeply concerned about these things,” said Lt Gen Johnson, the first female superintendent of a major military academy.
But “I can’t go back. I can only go forward,” she said.
The Denver Post and The Gazette in Colorado Springs recently reported details of a 2011 house party in Manitou Springs. Following the party, allegations were made of date rape drugs, sexual assaults of passed-out female cadets and threats by the football players to victims and witnesses.
An academy investigation led to court-martial convictions of two football players who had preyed on female cadets and lesser charges and punishments for others. A third cadet, also an athlete, was convicted of sexual misconduct in a separate case.
Altogether, Johnson said 32 cadets were investigated in the wake of the December 2011 event. Half were football players, two were basketball players and one was a diver.
The academy has a new set of leaders with a new determination to protect cadets from sexual predators.
Only time will tell how effective their efforts are.
The convictions resulted from a secret informant program that later was dismantled. Forty-five cadets filed sexual-assault complaints last year, and the new commandant of cadets said one active criminal case has reached his desk. It doesn’t involve a football player.
Eric Thomas, the cadet and informant who said four football players carried out a plan to drug and sexually assault women at the house party, is still fighting the academy’s decision to expel him.
His supervisor, Sgt. Brandon Enos, helped secure the convictions that academy leaders point to with pride. Yet Enos is spending the last days of an 11-year Air Force career doing “demeaning tasks such as clean cabinets and vacuum floors,” according to a memo obtained by The Post. As a further show of humiliation, his badges have been confiscated.
Enos has declined requests for interviews while he remains in the Air Force. He is expected to leave next month.
Three years after the investigations began, the list of those punished for the academy’s latest sex scandal remains at the cadet level.
Its new leaders say they are taking steps to show this is a new era. They promise that sex crimes will not be tolerated, and athletes who commit them will be prosecuted and kicked off their teams.
At the superintendent’s request, academy inspector general Col David Kuenzli is starting an unprecedented audit of its athletic programs. He described it as an inspection, not a criminal investigation, that will be followed in four to six weeks by a report on any failures to follow academy rules.
He said he will have access to virtually all academy records, including athletics-related financial reports, and employees of the athletic departments.
But he does not expect at this point to interview athletes.
“My initial plan is not to talk to cadets,” he said. “I feel confident that we will get a sufficient picture.”
Athletic director Hans Mueh said 24 football players have pledged voluntarily that sexual misbehavior will not be tolerated. “Going forward, they’re trying to make it better,” he said.
Brigadier Gen. Steve Williams, who arrived from Japan last month to become the new commandant of cadets, decried what happened and promised change.
“If one person would have said, ‘This is wrong. We’re not going to have this party,’” he said. “One person.”
He called the issue of sexual assaults a challenge for our society as a whole, not just college campuses, but not an insurmountable one.
“We make mistakes. We fall down,” he said. “I’m going to grow the grass so strong that the weeds — the perpetrators — have nowhere to grow.”
Senior cadets, who volunteered to speak to the media about the scandal and how the academy responded, defended the institution. They expressed frustration that a scandal that happened when they were freshmen is making headlines their senior year.
None of them, including JayP Fullam, who played football, said they knew about the sexual assaults and drug parties when they happened because freshmen lead such different lives from upperclassmen.
Today, the cadets are confident the message is getting across that sexual assault is not accepted.