Osan airman gets 8-month sentence, discharge
OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — An airman who pleaded guilty to a series of drunken assaults was awaiting transport to a military jail Friday night in handcuffs and leg restraints following his one-day court-martial.
Airman Basic Don Edward Brown II, 21, drew a sentence of eight months confinement and a bad conduct discharge after making a tearful, halting statement in which he asked the military judge for leniency.
“Please do not cripple my future by sentencing me to a punitive discharge,” Brown, a former high school athlete, told Air Force Col. Steven A. Hatfield, chief military judge for the Pacific Circuit, out of Yokota Air Base, Japan.
Brown had opted to be tried by judge alone rather than by jury.
Under a pretrial agreement, Brown’s confinement cannot exceed seven months. The government will also subtract the 118 days Brown had spent in pre-trial lock-up.
Brown, who worked in satellite communications with the 607th Combat Communications Squadron, was stationed at Camp Humphreys.
Hatfield sentenced Brown after deliberating for about an hour on the case, in which Brown pleaded guilty to a range of charges stemming from several incidents earlier this year: assault, resisting apprehension, being drunk and disorderly, dereliction of duty, failure to obey a lawful order, and failure to go to his appointed place of duty.
Assault and resisting apprehension charges stemmed from a May 9 incident in Seoul. Prosecutors said Brown hailed a taxi and asked cabbie Chong Chin-tae to take him to Yongsan Station. On arrival, Brown continued eating a hamburger. When Chong demanded the fare, Brown struck him in the nose with the back of his hand.
When the cabbie persisted, Brown struck him in the chest.
Chong drove to the nearest police box and stopped. Brown got out, prosecutors said, and began walking away. Chong followed him and the pair drew the attention of two Korean National Police officers, who directed the men into the police station.
Once inside, Brown was boisterous, prosecutors said, and refused to sit. The two police officers grabbed Brown in an effort to seat him. When they did, Brown shook one cop and bit the second officer’s chest, drawing blood, prosecutors said.
Brown subsequently struggled with a U.S. Army military police officer, spitting in his face and kicking his leg when the MP tried to apprehend Brown.
Brown also pleaded guilty to an April 9 assault in which he shoved Staff Sgt. Marcus Taylor through a plate glass shop window in Pyongtaek’s Anjung-ri district.
The soldiers were acquaintances, prosecutors said, and when Taylor made a jesting remark that Brown disliked, Brown shoved him.
Brown also pleaded guilty to failing to show up for duty; to leaving his place of duty without authority; drinking alcohol though he’d been ordered not to; being in an off-limits area; and violating curfew. Those incidents, occurred, variously, in January, April and May.
Brown was allowed to make an unsworn statement, which he read while standing at a podium set up in the center of the courtroom.
“I know these charges may look like I don’t care, but I do,” Brown said. “I deeply regret my conduct … I know I must be punished.”
But, Brown said, “these crimes were out of character for me.”
After enlisting in the Air Force, Brown said, he soon ran into problems. “I continued to have trouble adapting to military life.” He said he began drinking increasingly and “slowly building up a tolerance for alcohol.”
Things got worse when he arrived in South Korea, his first duty station. South Korea, he said, was a depressing, difficult place to serve, and his drinking grew worse. He was soon embroiled in disciplinary problems, and at one point was reduced in rank from senior airman to airman basic.
During much of his statement, which lasted about 10 minutes or more, Brown seemed repeatedly to sniff back tears. His voice wavered and at times he inhaled audibly, and often halted in mid-sentence, seeming to struggle to regain a steady voice.
Making the prosecution’s pre-sentencing argument, Capt. Dan A. Shephard, chief of civil law at Osan, asked for a 10-month jail sentence and a bad conduct discharge.
“Airman Brown talks about the things he has suffered,” Shephard said. But, Shephard asked, what about Brown’s victims, and the trouble his misconduct had caused his unit?
Taylor, the man shoved through the shop window, required five days hospitalization after the incident, Shephard said.
Incidents like last May’s assault on the taxi driver and South Korean police officers can harm relations between the U.S. military and “host nation” South Korea, Shephard said.
But, the attorney told the judge, with a sentence of 10 months in jail and a bad conduct discharge, “You’re going to send a message to our host nation that we’re going to police our own; that we’re going to punish our own.”
In making the defense’s pre-sentencing statement, Capt. Elizabeth Pullin said the prosecution was asking for a “harsh and disproportionate” sentence.
Brown’s case was not merely a matter of the actions that had led to his prosecution but of the “overwhelming power” of alcohol and the “ever-increasing, downward spiral of a disease” that had laid hold of him, Pullin said.