Former soldier-turned-thief testified he was wounded in Iraq, but has no Purple Heart
By SCOTT DAUGHERTY | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: December 30, 2015
NORFOLK, Va. (Tribune News Service) — Under oath earlier this month in a federal courtroom, Sterling Orlando Scott recounted the blast he claims took out his Humvee and left him addicted to painkillers.
While asking a judge for lenience, the former soldier turned convicted thief said the explosion claimed the life of at least one of his comrades and left him seriously wounded. He recalled waking up in a military hospital in Germany with shrapnel in his left side. He said he subsequently underwent multiple surgeries, one of which cost him a testicle.
But Scott's military record shows no sign of a Purple Heart, which would typically be awarded to a soldier wounded in action, nor a Combat Infantryman Badge, which would typically be awarded to a soldier who personally fought in active ground combat. And in an interview, one of Scott's former Army supervisors said his staff could find no evidence Scott was injured in any such explosion.
"We could find no record of any combat injury," said Sgt. Major LeRoy Haugland, who supervised Scott in 2012 and 2013 while working with a Warrior Transition Battalion in Fort Bliss, Texas. "No evacuation from Iraq for combat injuries. No record of any ordeal like that."
Scott — who was sentenced Dec. 7 to 10 months in jail for stealing from military aid organizations — and his parents declined to comment for this article.
Scott's defense attorney, however, defended his client in an interview. Kevin Pettrey said he knew before the sentencing hearing that Scott didn't have a Purple Heart, but believed that was due to how his client was discharged last year from the Army.
Scott — who is currently being held at a medium security federal prison in Hopewell — received an "other than honorable" separation in November 2014 amid accusations he stole from other military aid groups.
"To the best of my knowledge, Sterling Scott served in the U.S. Army and was wounded in the defense of our freedoms," Pettrey said.
The defense attorney added that he has a letter from an Army doctor that "clearly references his shrapnel injuries from combat." He declined to release the letter without his client's permission, but said "clearly there are some records somewhere."
A spokesman for the Army's Human Resources Command declined to comment on the details of Scott's record.
"Privacy laws prohibit us from discussing a soldier's medical condition or treatment," Bill Costello wrote in an email, adding that he also couldn't comment on "why a document, award or decoration doesn't exist" on a soldier's record.
Scott grew up in Chesapeake. He last attended Deep Creek High School from 2001 through 2005, according to the school system.
Military records indicate Scott enlisted with the Army in October 2005 — around the time of his 19th birthday — and trained at Fort Benning, Georgia. He eventually served two tours in Iraq and then one in Afghanistan with various infantry combat teams. He was an indirect fire infantryman, according to the Army.
Scott served in Iraq for about 14 months in 2006 and 2007 and then about six months in 2009. He served in Afghanistan from May to August 2011, according to the Army.
Scott didn't specify from the stand where his Humvee was blown up, only saying it happened in 2011.
That would have been when Scott was in Afghanistan, but Pettrey said his client told him the explosion occurred in Iraq. Haugland said Scott told him he was injured in Baghdad and court documents indicate Scott told at least one law enforcement officer a similar story.
Pettrey did not respond to emails regarding the discrepancy.
From the stand, Scott recalled how the explosion claimed the life of one of his friends. He said he remembered holding parts of his comrade before passing out and waking up in Germany.
Scott told U.S. District Court Judge Robert G. Doumar the shrapnel ripped through his left side and caused serious damage to his groin. He said he underwent at least six surgeries, during one of which doctors removed a testicle.
"I deal with the pain every day," Scott said, adding he still carries pieces of shrapnel in his abdomen.
Scott also claimed he suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury in the Army, and is still coping with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
While undergoing treatment, Scott said his doctors prescribed him Percocet, morphine and other painkillers. He said he ultimately became addicted to the drugs, which he blamed for most of his legal troubles the past three years.
"The medications change you," he said. "It alters you."
Scott was promoted to Staff Sergeant in May 2012 after returning from Afghanistan, but shortly thereafter his military career started to unravel. He found himself under investigation for stealing from Army Emergency Relief. A court martial was scheduled, but the charges were eventually dropped. He was demoted to private in November 2014 and administratively discharged.
Four days after his separation from the Army, Scott started using his old military ID to scam other aid groups, according to court documents.
The documents say Scott fabricated stories about traffic accidents and injured family members in order to receive no-interest loans he never intended to pay back. To further the scheme, he would call the aid groups while posing as high-ranking enlisted member of the military to vouch for the loan.
In all, Scott stole more than $11,000 from the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society and Coast Guard Mutual Assistance, documents said.
“I felt like after all I’d been through, someone owed me,” Scott said from the witness stand.
Scott was indicted in April in U.S. District Court in Norfolk and arrested shortly thereafter. He pleaded guilty in August to one count of felony theft.
Court and police records show Scott has been arrested several times in the past five years, including once in 2010 for impersonating a police officer in Chesapeake and once in 2013 for impersonating a border patrol officer in Luling, Texas.
Until recently, Scott also faced charges in Chesapeake and Virginia Beach for unlawful use of a vehicle and obtaining drugs by false pretense respectively.
Those charges were dropped by prosecutors or otherwise dismissed. Caldwell County (Texas) District Attorney Fred Weber explained his office dropped the border patrol officer case as part of a plea agreement in which Scott pleaded guilty to filing a false report.
Court records obtained by The Pilot indicate Scott told a Chesapeake police officer in 2010 he "caught shrapnel" in Baghdad. Likewise, he told a Luling police officer in 2013 he was "blown up" on duty.
Haugland — a two-time Bronze Star recipient — didn't dispute Scott was injured in some fashion. He recalled seeing Scott's scars first hand.
"He'll be glad to pull down his pants and show you," Haugland said. "He was injured somehow by someone, just not in combat."
Haugland said it is a "big deal" when an IED blows up a Humvee. He said the Army might lose track of some things, but not something like that.
"We track those things pretty good," Haugland said.
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