MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Army officials have quietly ordered an investigation into allegations that leaders of an Illinois-based reserve unit mishandled sexual assault complaints and retaliated against a whistleblower, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.
Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth sent a letter to Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy on Jan. 15 requesting an investigation. Their letter cited an AP story about allegations that commanders in the had improperly opened internal investigations into at least two sexual assault complaints, suspended a victim advocate after she alerted Army criminal investigators to the probes and placed a victim on a firing range with someone she had accused of sexual harassment, causing her to fear for her life.
According to a Jan. 16 memo obtained by the AP, Maj. Gen. A.C. Roper has appointed two officers to look into the allegations. He told at least one of them that the investigation takes priority over her other duties.
Multiple Army Reserve spokesmen didn’t return emails seeking comment on the investigation. The 416th’s spokesman, Jason Proseus, also didn’t respond to emails.
Aides to Durbin and Duckworth said they have received no notification that an investigation is underway.
The 416th, based in the Chicago suburb of Darien, provides technical and engineering support for U.S. military forces. It serves as the headquarters for nearly 11,000 soldiers in 26 states west of the Mississippi River.
Amy Braley Franck, a civilian sexual assault victim advocate with the 416th, has alleged that commanders launched internal investigations into at least two sexual assault cases, one in 2018 and another last year.
Federal law and Department of Defense policy require that commanders refer sexual assault complaints to criminal investigators in their respective branches to avoid biased investigations. Commanders who don’t follow the proper channels can face reprimand, removal from command or a court martial.
The Wisconsin National Guard’s top commander, Adj. Gen. Donald Dunbar, resigned in December after a federal review found he had been launching internal sexual assault investigations rather than forwarding complaints to the National Guard Bureau. He’s still under Air Force investigation.
Braley Franck also has alleged that the unit’s sexual assault coordinator was indifferent to the woman who was worried about going to the range with the subject of her sexual harassment complaint, and that the 416th went months without holding a sexual assault management meeting, even though the DOD requires such meetings monthly.
Braley Franck’s commanders suspended her in November in what she believes was retaliation for alerting Army criminal investigators to the internal probes.
She said an investigator met with her Thursday and told her before the interview began that she wouldn’t be allowed to discuss the meeting with Durbin or Duckworth’s offices. Braley Franck said she refused to abide by that condition and the investigator, Brig. Gen Susan Henderson, then ended the meeting.