Judge chastises USFK unit for stripping GI’s chevrons
(EDITOR’S NOTE: A correction has been made to this article since its original publication.
CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — Soldiers who last month stripped rank chevrons, ribbons and other items from the uniform of a soldier who’d just been sentenced in a rape case acted illegally and undermined military justice, a military judge said Friday.
He also knocked 60 days off the Aug. 4 sentence of the soldier, Pvt. Mikel A. Reynolds.
“The public stripping … served no valid military purpose … and amounted to unlawful punishment,” Army Col. Patrick J. Parrish said Friday at a post-trial hearing in the case.
Last month’s stripping occurred inside the courtroom at Camp Humphreys and in full view of the rape victim, who was seated just yards away.
Reynolds is assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 1st Battalion, 43rd Air Defense Artillery, at Suwon Air Base, part of the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade.
Soldiers from Reynolds’ battery who were assigned to escort him during his court-martial began stripping his uniform jacket just minutes after Parrish had sentenced Reynolds, adjourned the court and left the courtroom. Parrish is chief judge for the 6th Judicial Circuit in Seoul.
Parrish on Friday rapped Headquarters and Headquarters Battery leaders for what he said was their inadequate knowledge of elementary matters regarding the proper handling of an accused soldier they’re escorting during court-martial.
“It is unfortunate that the leaders at the battery level are so” ill-informed about such matters, Parrish said. Noting that he did not have the authority to mandate training for the leaders, he said such training would be advisable.
Lt. Col. Terence Dorn, 1st Battalion commander, declined Friday to be interviewed about the post-trial hearing, said U.S. Forces Korea spokesman David Oten. Brigade commander Col. John G. Rossi could not be contacted immediately, Oten said.
At the court-martial, Parrish sentenced Reynolds to six years in prison, a dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances and reduction to E-1, the lowest military pay grade.
Under a plea agreement, he was to serve no more than five years. Reynolds was an E-2 at the time of his conviction by general court-martial.
The sentence came after Reynolds pleaded guilty to raping a female soldier on May 1 in a Suwon Air Base barracks. His defense lawyers requested the post-trial hearing and asked Parrish to reduce the sentence by at least one year because, they argued, the uniform stripping subjected Reynolds to “cruel and unusual punishment.”
Parrish rejected that argument, saying “this certainly does not rise to the level of a beating” or similar punishment.
However, he said, it did violate “at least the spirit” of relevant U.S. military law. “Even convicted soldiers are to be treated with dignity and respect, under the circumstances,” Parrish said.
Earlier in the hearing, defense lawyer Capt. James Culp asked Reynolds to tell how the stripping had affected him. “I was real sad, sir,” Reynolds said. “It was like kickin’ a man when he’s down. I was trying to hold back my emotion and not cry.”
Sgt. Benjamin Hicks and Sgt. Jason McDougal stripped Reynolds’ jacket on orders of 1st Sgt. Donald Pence, the three testified.
Capt. Michelle H. Toyofuku, who at the time was a first lieutenant and the acting battery commander, gave Pence the go-ahead for the order after he approached her and told her such stripping was normal military procedure, she testified.
“I was under the belief that that was the proper procedure,” Pence testified. “I considered Reynolds a convicted prisoner.”
Pence told Capt. Claudine Andola, Reynolds’ prosecutor, that he never intended to humiliate Reynolds. He denied under defense questioning that the stripping was intended to give satisfaction to the victim.
Toyofuku testified that, “in hindsight, obviously, I now know that you’re not supposed to do that in a courtroom.”
Parrish rebuked Hicks when he expressed lingering doubt as to whether the stripping had been wrong.
Under questioning by defense lawyer Capt. Corey Marks, Hicks said that when he’d heard a post-trial hearing was to be held, “I thought that this hearing was, in my opinion … kind of retarded … stupid.”
“Did you tell anybody,” Parrish cut in, “this hearing I am conducting now, is ‘retarded’ and ‘stupid’?… This hearing is not retarded and stupid.”
Parrish told Hicks that as a noncommissioned officer, it is Hicks’s duty “not to undermine military justice … which you gentlemen did.”
Minutes later, again questioned by Marks, Hicks said of the stripping, “It might have been wrong.”
“You don’t listen very well, Sgt. Hicks. I told you it was illegal,” Parrish said.
“Yes, sir,” Hicks said.
Parrish also rebuked McDougal when the sergeant testified he thought the action legitimate.
“Sgt. McDougal, I’ll tell you now,” said Parrish. “It was wrong … it is illegal.”
“I didn’t know that sir,” McDougal said.
“Well,” Parrish said, “you know it now.”