Senators demand review of Army Reserve sexual assaults

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Amy Braley Franck

In this Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020, photo, Amy Braley Franck, a civilian victim advocate with the 416th Theater Engineer Command, poses for a portrait with more than 800 pages from several sexual abuse reports at her home in Oswego, Ill. Leaders of the U.S. Army Reserve unit that controls thousands of soldiers across the western United States have mishandled at least two sexual assault complaints by not properly referring them for outside investigation, according to victims, their advocate and documents obtained by The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wednesday, two Democratic senators demanded Army officials open an investigation into allegations 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 last week’s Associated Press story about allegations 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 sent to the Secretary of the Army’s general media inbox seeking comment. The 416th’s spokesman, Jason Proseus, referred a request for comment to Army Reserve Headquarters spokesmen at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. None of the spokesmen immediately responded to email and voicemail messages late Wednesday afternoon.

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 showing 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 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 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 he had been launching internal investigations rather than forwarding complaints to the National Guard Bureau.

Braley Franck also provided documents showing she took a call from a female private in November. The woman was concerned 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 victims are protected and can access services. She said the unit operated for 10 months without a sexual assault response coordinator. Such coordinators ensure victims receive services such as medical care and counseling, and they help 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.

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