173rd Airborne BCT major found guilty of sexual assault
VICENZA, Italy — The former signal officer for the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team was found guilty at court-martial of aggravated sexual assault, forcible sodomy and maltreatment of a subordinate.
Maj. Rodney H. Lipscomb pleaded guilty to charges of engaging in a prohibited relationship and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. The jury of five male officers sentenced him Thursday to one year’s confinement and dismissal from the Army.
Lipscomb was found guilty of two of four specifications of sexual assault and forcible sodomy and maltreatment of a subordinate, a private first class, during a shared temporary duty assignment in Bamberg, Germany, on Dec. 5, 2011. Lipscomb, who could have faced life in prison, was found not guilty on the two other specifications of sexual assault. Because of the convictions, he will now be registered as a sex offender in the States.
The victim, 20, was two months into her first overseas assignment at the time of the TDY, according to prosecutors. She and Lipscomb worked in the same section of their unit and were going to Germany for one in a series of exercises in which others from Vicenza also were participating, according to testimony from others in the unit.
Lipscomb, who had been in Germany on TDY, informed the private on a Friday she would be going to Bamberg the following Monday, the prosecutor said. She and Lipscomb drove seven hours from Vicenza to Bamberg together, although there was room in another vehicle, according to the prosecution. In Bamberg, Lipscomb and the private stayed at a hotel he booked for them, although the others were staying elsewhere, according to the prosecution and witness testimony.
In testimony, the private said that Lipscomb kissed, groped or inappropriately touched her at two locations in Bamberg, where they went to dinner and then stopped at a couple of bars before returning to the hotel. Lipscomb also took her into a sex shop where he talked about anal sex, which she said she found “disgusting.”
Later, in his hotel room, Lipscomb performed oral sex and digitally penetrated her, she testified.
She testified that the sexual acts with Lipscomb were not consensual.
The private said she had verbally objected to the sexual acts, but had not physically resisted them. She did eventually push Lipscomb away and told him she did not want to have sex with him. He stopped and allowed her to return to her room.
They were separated by more than a dozen ranks, said prosecutor Lt. Col. Will Helixon, in closing arguments, and it was not reasonable for him to believe that she would be interested in having sex with him. Lipscomb “abused his power, rank and authority,” Helixon said.
The victim was among 11 witnesses called by the prosecution, including her fiance, also an active-duty soldier stationed at Vicenza. He called the circumstances around the TDY “fishy.”
Lipscomb did not testify during the evidentiary portion of the trial, submitting statements admitting his guilt in having a prohibited relationship and conduct unbecoming an officer.
In closing arguments, defense attorney Grover Baxley said Lipscomb “displayed not just bad judgment, but horrible judgment.” But he argued his client was not guilty of sexual assault because “she was a willing participant, all the time cheating on her boyfriend.”
“Regret is not sexual assault,” Baxley said.
But Helixon said that while her actions — not resisting him — might have seemed unorthodox, he believed they were consistent with someone in her situation.
“You can’t punish her for employing tactics to avoid being raped,” he argued.
The victim and Lipscomb both admitted to consuming several drinks during the evening, but both stated they were not drunk and not unable to make rational decisions.
During sentencing testimony, Lipscomb, a father of three, read an unsworn statement in which he said that, since the incident, he has received counseling for alcohol abuse and post-traumatic stress. He served three combat tours in Iraq, including one in Fallujah while he was with the 82nd Airborne Division.
“I am convinced if I had not been drinking, we would not be here today,” he said to the jury, fighting back tears. He said he has not had an alcoholic drink since the incident.
Lipscomb’s wife and three children did not attend the court-martial.