Military policeman gets two years for sex misdeeds at Gitmo
By GUILLERMO CONTRERAS | San Antonio Express-News | Published: April 5, 2014
SAN ANTONIO — A military police officer was sentenced Friday night to two years in prison for sexual misconduct against three women he supervised in his unit while stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
In a court-martial at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Army 1st Sgt. Richard A. Smith, of Orlando, Fla., was also demoted and will be dishonorably discharged.
The noncommissioned officer was found not guilty of the most serious offense he faced regarding the alleged rape of a sergeant he dated in the Army Reserve 602nd MP Company. A conviction on that carries a possible maximum life sentence.
A military judge convicted Smith, 45, of the remaining 10 specifications, including two incidents of abusive sexual contact, maltreatment of three subordinates and three instances of inappropriate relationships. The behavior included sexual advances, biting a corporal's neck and stroking her leg in separate instances, telling her to be a “cuddle buddy” and having sex with two of the women, a sergeant and a specialist.
Smith, who has been married since 2001, had already pleaded guilty to a number of the allegations when his trial began Thursday, including adultery with the specialist, who was also married. He also pleaded guilty to lying to a captain by denying he had inappropriate relationships with the sergeant and the specialist.
The judge, Army Maj. Bret Batdorff, accepted the guilty pleas in handing down his verdict Friday, before sentencing Smith.
The conduct occurred during a nine-month deployment in 2012-13 at the prison camp that has held suspected terrorists since 2002. During that time, Guantanamo's detainees had been on a hunger strike in protest of conditions there.
As Smith's supporters and detractors packed a base courtroom here, Army Sgt. Maj. Michael Baker, the senior enlisted adviser over military police units at Guantanamo, said it created a rift at Gitmo in what already is a difficult and stressful job.
“There was a little division between the company soldiers,” Baker testified during the sentencing phase of Smith's trial.
When Smith was ordered to leave Cuba and come to Army South at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston amid the criminal investigation, someone new had to be put in his place to oversee the company's 125 soldiers, Baker said.
That “inhibits the mission overall,” Baker testified.
Smith, a reservist with nearly 27 years of military service, read a lengthy statement that was contrite and sought forgiveness and mercy. He apologized to each of the three victims individually.
The defense argued Smith was punished long before his trial. He was ordered to remove his first sergeant insignia 173 days ago, upon arriving in San Antonio.
Smith also told the judge he will have to register as a sex offender.
Through tears, Smith said he was too friendly with his soldiers, and “obviously way too friendly with a select few” that resulted in his prosecution. He also said he let his company down as a leader by succumbing to temptation.
“I cannot begin to apologize to the victims for the anguish I have put them through,” Smith said through tears. “I cannot and will not make excuses for my behavior.”
The defense asked the judge to give Smith 30 days in jail, demote him from E8 to E4 rank and cut his pay. But Army Capt. Thomas Silberman said Smith had a spotless record before the misconduct and asked that Smith be allowed to retire.
Prosecutors asked the judge to send a deterrent message with a punishment of at least seven years, reduction in rank from E8 to E1 (which the judge did) and a dishonorable discharge.
They said Smith zoned in on younger, female junior enlisted soldiers and exploited their vulnerabilities — such as bad prior relationships or life situations — for his own sexual intent. The prosecution also said Smith was given ample opportunities to stop his misconduct but did not.
“He used the deployment as a dating ground ... (and) he used the Army as a dating service,” Army Capt. Callie Woolam said. “In every way imaginable, 1st Sgt. Smith abused his rank, position, power, authority, his job and the uniform, and that cannot be tolerated.”