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Wright-Patterson airman discharged, avoids court martial for abusive sexual contact

By BARRIE BARBER | Dayton Daily News, Ohio (Tribune News Service) | Published: June 11, 2015

A Wright-Patterson airman will be discharged “under other than honorable conditions” from the military rather than face court martial proceedings on a charge of abusive sexual contact, according to the Air Force.

Airman 1st Class Jayson K. Walton, who was a cyber systems technician at the National Air and Space Intelligence Center at Wright-Patterson, was granted an “other than honorable conditions” discharge, according to a memorandum letter dated June 5 and signed by Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson, commander of the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center.

Walton also had faced an allegation of underage drinking in the Beavercreek area and modifying a military identification card by scratching off a birth date, according to military authorities. The airman had been accused of touching a woman’s private areas in a location at Wright-Patterson in June 2014, according to a military charging document and a base spokesperson.

Court martial proceedings were scheduled to begin this week, records showed. The airman had pleaded not guilty to the charges, spokeswoman Marie Vanover said in an e-mail. The Air Force said regulations prevented the release of the airman’s age and city of residence.

If convicted, the defendant could have faced a maximum penalty of up to 10 years and six months in confinement, reduction in rank to airman basic, total forfeiture of pay and a dishonorable discharge, base spokesman Daryl Mayer had said in an email.

Messages were left Wednesday afternoon for the airman’s military defense attorney.

The airman had asked for the administrative discharge and “after careful consideration of the entire case” that included input from the alleged victim, the request was granted, Vanover said in a statement.

A defendant may file for an administrative discharge until court martial proceedings, said Lt. Col. Paul Cronin, chief of the 88th Air Base Wing Office of the Judge Advocate at Wright-Patterson. The request is reviewed and a decision made by a convening authority, who is a military commander.

“I would look at it as another tool the Air Force uses to hold someone accountable for their actions,” he said.

Being granted “Under Other Than Honorable Conditions,” Vanover said in an e-mail, “is the worst possible characterization of an administrative discharge.” She added that “significant veterans benefits” would be denied, and no separation pay would be given to the airman.

“Every case brings a unique set of facts and circumstances, and with that, punishments can vary,” she wrote. “When handling the cases that have come to Wright-Patterson, the one constant is that everyone here at Wright-Patterson takes the administration of justice very seriously.”

The case is the third pending court martial in similar cases at Wright-Patterson since 2010 to be granted an administrative discharge, Mayer said.

Thirteen out of 20 court martial proceedings at the base have involved sexually related offenses, he has said. Of those 13, six airmen were found guilty, two were acquitted, one case was dismissed under an Article 32 hearing and one case remains pending.

Congress has scrutinized how the military handles sexual offenses in recent years and lawmakers have passed tougher measures to crackdown on incidents. The Defense Department has pushed additional measures to prevent harassment and assault, counsel victims and punish those responsible for offenses, officials have said.

Merle Wilberding, a Dayton attorney and former Army Judge Advocate General lawyer, said the decision to proceed with a court martial rests with the Air Force, not the accused who does not have a protected status from prosecution as a service member.

Wilberding has testified to Congress about the issue of sexual assault in the military. He said Wednesday the government might have a myriad of reasons for not pursuing a trial that could involve uncertainty about evidence or whether a witness will testify, among other reasons.

An administrative discharge would not prevent civilian authorities from pursuing a case if an alleged incident occurred off base, he said. However, there’s no direct similarity to an administrative discharge in the civilian court system, he said.

Don Christensen, president of the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders, is a former chief prosecutor in the Air Force and a retired colonel. He said administrative separations have historically had a place in military judicial proceedings, while noting he had no knowledge of this particular case.

“My biggest concern is they be used for the right reason and in my mind the right reason is it’s something the victim wants and justice will be served by doing that,” he said. “I think on some occasions they’re done for the wrong reasons.

“When they are based on a rational view of the evidence and what the victim wants … it’s an alternative tool,” he said. “It should be the exception, but there are cases where it’s appropriate.”

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©2015 the Dayton Daily News (Dayton, Ohio)

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