Officials: Fort Benning soldier accused of taping kids using bathroom in his home

By CHUCK WILLIAMS | The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer | Published: August 18, 2018

A federal magistrate on Friday ordered an active-duty Fort Benning soldier facing child pornography charges to be held without bond during a morning arraignment in the downtown Columbus courthouse.

Staff Sgt. Michael Lawson, who is assigned to the Army’s Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Benning, appeared in court on charges of attempted sexual exploration of children and possession of child pornography. Lawson was indicted on Wednesday by a federal grand jury and faces 15 to 30 years in prison on the attempted sexual exploration of children charge and and 1 to 20 years in prison on the possession of child pornography. He was arrested Thursday on post and held in the Muscogee County Jail.

During the 15-minute initial appearance in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Hyles, Lawson was still wearing his Army issued fatigues and T-shirt and boots that had the shoestrings removed.

Lawson, 36, was arrested by agents from Homeland Security Investigations, which launched the probe back in May. The Fort Benning Criminal Investigation Division assisted, said Homeland Security Investigations spokesman Bryan Cox.

When the agents searched Lawson’s Midland home on May 15, they found 41 videos of children, some of them as young as 9, engaged in sexual acts with adult men, Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Daniel Balderson testified. That evidence led to the possession of child pornography charges.

Agents, acting on a tip from the Colorado Homeland Security Investigations office, said they found a hidden camera inside one of the home’s bathrooms. A family had visited the home from out of state. The search found video of two girls, one 10 and the other 15, taking showers and using the bathroom, Balderson testified. There was also video of Lawson installing the camera, Balderson said. That video led to the more serious charge of attempted sexual exploration of children.

Lawson was interviewed on Thursday after his arrest, Balderson said. The soldier waived his right to remain silent and talked with the agents.

“He admitted to setting up the camera and filming the girls,” Balderson said. “He also admitted to downloading the video.”

Lawson paid for two of the videos using “an alternative currency,” Balderson said. The special agent did not elaborate on what type of currency.

Lawson was represented by Michelle Sandler, a federal public defender in the Middle District of Georgia. Sandler requested a reasonable bond, saying her client was not a flight risk.

“He is no longer living at the residence,” Sandler said. “He is in the Army stationed here and he’s not going anywhere.”

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