Former JBLM hospital commander fired over sexual assault allegation, awaits personnel decision
An Army colonel who is a psychiatrist and commanded the hospital at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., has been accused of raping his family’s live-in nanny 14 years ago when he served at Fort Stewart, Ga., according to documents provided to Stars and Stripes.
Since the accusation was levied against Col. Christopher Warner in September 2020, he was removed from command of Madigan Army Medical Center at Lewis-McChord and Army officials have conducted a sexual assault investigation. Warner, 47, received a General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand, and now awaits a final review of the case on Sept. 27 to determine whether he will face further disciplinary action, according to documents.
His former nanny, Amber, said she called the Army with the allegations last year after speaking with a therapist. She told special agents with Army Criminal Investigation Command, known as CID, that Warner raped her three times and attempted a fourth in his family home in Georgia in 2007.
Stars and Stripes typically does not name the victims of sexual assault, but Amber chose to be identified by her first name.
Daniel Conway, an attorney for Warner, described the colonel as “a respected combat-tested physician that has helped thousands of patients.”
“We have empathy for the complainant’s feelings, but significant aspects of her story were proven untrue following an investigation. His case was handled appropriately by the command with advice of counsel and input from the complainant,” Conway said in a statement.
Warner was assigned to Winn Army Community Hospital at Fort Stewart from 2005 to 2010, where he was chief of behavioral health medicine and the 3rd Infantry Division psychiatrist, according to the Coastal Courier newspaper. In 2016, he returned to command the Fort Stewart hospital.
Amber said she didn’t think anyone would believe her story and for years tried to move on with her life, but she had trouble trusting people, suffered nightmares and had difficulty holding jobs where she had a male boss.
Last year, she again tried therapy, which has always been difficult for her because Warner was a mental health professional. After Amber described what happened to her, the therapist searched online for information about Warner and told Amber about his recent appointment as the JBLM hospital commander.
They discussed the job allowed Warner power over other people and he was likely in charge of a unit that provided treatment to victims of sexual assault. Amber said she doesn’t know whether Warner ever harmed other women, but she decided that contacting the Army would prevent any other possible assaults.
JBLM announced Warner was pulled from his job at the helm of Madigan medical center on Oct. 2, less than three months after taking command. The base statement was brief, and only said it was in response to a CID investigation that was unrelated to the base or the hospital.
Warner, originally from Toronto, Ohio, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., in 1996 and then from the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences in 2000, according to the Army. He is certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and the American Board of Family Medicine.
Amber said, in part, it was Warner’s credentials and status as a service member and doctor that made her feel safe in a job that required her to live in someone else’s home.
‘I don’t have a choice’
Amber was 19 years old when she accepted the job to care for Warner’s four children at the family’s house in Richmond Hills, Ga. Warner, then 33, was set to deploy to Iraq after the birth of his fifth child, Amber said.
In the few months between Amber moving in and Warner’s deployment, she said he raped her in her bedroom, in the family room and forced her to perform oral sex on him. Each time, his children were in the home, she said.
The discussions of sex began as hints toward Amber about a month after she moved into Warner’s home in 2007. Over time, it escalated to Warner telling her that she would soon have to decide to have sex with him or leave the house and never work as a nanny again.
“It was basically, you know, I could have sex with him, and he could give me medicine to help make it easier for me. Or, he said that he could tell [his wife] that I came on to him, and that I would never have a nanny position again,” Amber said. “He told me he didn't know what [his wife] would do, but that she had borderline personality disorder, and that could cause her to snap. So basically, in a way, he was hinting that he didn't know if [she] was capable of harming me.”
On May 30, 2007, the night Warner’s wife delivered their new baby, he returned home hours after the birth to rape Amber, she said.
He entered her room in the early morning hours, told her about the baby, and then locked the door, she said. He stood over her as she lay in bed, offered her an unknown prescription pill and he said she had a decision to make. He began to list out all the reasons why saying no to him would be bad for her.
“He's not giving me a choice. I don’t have a choice. I don't want the kids to wake up. I don't know what he'll do if I say no,” Amber said she thought to herself before eventually accepting the pill and her fate.
She said she’s thought about this moment during the birth of her own three children.
“The memory of what happened to me haunted me, because Chris left the hospital,” Amber said.
After the second rape, which occurred in the family’s living room, he gave her a pill to prevent a pregnancy, she said. He forced her to perform oral sex one evening while the children were nearby brushing their teeth, she said.
He also attempted a fourth assault on Amber in the family’s backyard, but stopped when his wife came out of the house.
A way out, a recorded confession
Once Warner deployed, Amber felt relieved and even began to enjoy spending time with his wife. Then Warner began emailing Amber, asking for explicit photos.
A wooden bench used at the family’s kitchen table fell onto her foot and fractured it. She used it as an excuse to get out of the house before Warner returned.
Months later, she emailed Warner’s wife, who had felt hurt by Amber leaving and refused to speak to her. In the email, Amber told her everything that had happened. In response, Warner called Amber.
“He let me know that nobody would ever believe me. He said he apologized, and he preyed on me. I was a conquest and it felt good with the age difference,” Amber said. “He said he knew what he did was wrong and that he wouldn’t change it. He’s sitting there telling me he knows, as a psychiatrist, how sick he is. He told me he’s narcissistic and he can’t help himself. That is one of the reasons why I am very concerned about other people.”
When Amber decided to come forward last year, she suggested to the CID agents who were assigned to her case that she call Warner and get him to admit his guilt.
It worked, she said. Sitting at an outdoor picnic area of a public park a year ago, Amber spoke to Warner about everything that he did to her. Meanwhile, a special agent from JBLM listened in and recorded the conversation.
Amber requested the transcripts of those calls and her full investigative file from CID, but the request was declined because Warner’s case is still considered open.
Now a year since she first spoke with Army investigators, Amber said she feels betrayed the service has refused to disclose publicly the nature of the investigation into Warner and what discipline he has received or will receive. She told prosecutors she wanted to go to trial, but that didn’t happen.
She has begun considering whether she should have gone to law enforcement in Georgia first, but the statute of limitations might have expired. Georgia law states rape without force must be prosecuted within seven years of the offense, and within 15 years if the perpetrator used force.
Amber said she decided to share her story publicly, because she worries the Army will bury what the officer did to her, which could allow him to continue to practice medicine or potentially harm someone else in the future.
“I still feel like people need to know, and I still feel like there was no justice,” she said.
Base officials have declined to answer questions about Warner’s removal, citing they are prohibited by privacy laws.
“Col. Warner was removed from his command and reassigned to another position while allegations against him were investigated. His case is pending final disposition and it is not appropriate for us to comment further at this time on disposition or personnel actions protected by the Privacy Act,” said Col. Joey J. Sullinger, spokesman for I Corps, the headquarters that oversees JBLM.
A military protective order signed in October states Warner was being investigated for sexual assault and he could not contact Amber.
CID declined to comment or answer questions about their investigation “due to ongoing legal proceedings,” said Chris Grey, a spokesman for CID.
Documents provided to Stars and Stripes show Warner received a General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand, or GOMOR. Amber is preparing to testify at a hearing this month that could determine any final disciplinary action. Because of Warner’s rank, the hearing will likely include a board of three general officers.
Sullinger declined to comment on whether Warner received a GOMOR and declined to answer any questions related to the case, including why the former I Corps commander, Lt. Gen. Randy George, found enough probable cause to remove Warner from his command and issue the GOMOR, but not enough to send the case to a court-martial.
A GOMOR is common in this situation, said Mickey Williams, a former military attorney. Now a civilian, he continues to represent service members from his Georgia-based law firm.
“What would be unusual is if that's the only thing that happened,” said Williams, who is not affiliated with Warner’s case. “Though I am seeing it more and more.”
He said he believes a declining conviction rate for sexual assault in military courts has led to prosecutors bringing fewer cases to trial.
In 2010, the military had a 24% conviction rate, according to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who has advocated for reform of the military justice system for nearly a decade. By 2019, the conviction rate fell to 7%.
A GOMOR, which can be included in a soldier’s permanent record and typically leads to a separation review board, requires a commander believe the allegation occurred. To have that evidence and forgo a court-martial is more common for sexual harassment, but not for sexual assault, Williams said.
“There must be some very significant evidence that the government is aware of … that is damning to the case. And so, in a case like that, if it’s clear that the guy didn’t do it, then you have the reverse. Why are you giving this guy a GOMOR if you don’t think he actually did it?” Williams said. “The worst thing he could do as a leader is be wishy-washy. You either think he did it, or he didn’t do it.”
The nonjudicial process that Warner does face could result in him leaving the Army, but the proceedings are private. It’s unclear how the process could impact his ability to practice medicine or whether it could affect his civilian medical license, which is issued through Indiana.
The Indiana Attorney General’s Office declined to comment on whether they were investigating Warner. The Indiana licensing website shows his license expires in October 2023.
Williams said if the Army is going to review its credentials for Warner, it would require a separate review board with medical professionals. The Army did not say whether that is going to happen in this case.
Amber has already filed a victim impact statement for the GOMOR that Warner received and is now working on a statement that she can read in an upcoming hearing before a board of officers.
“I don’t know if there’s enough words to describe the pain and suffering I have been put through by Christopher Warner,” she wrote in the statement. “He did not win. I finally am able to stand and tell my story. I do so in hope to help others.”