Darien-based Army Reserve unit mishandled sexual assault complaints, Army finds
A general lost her command, 12 soldiers got reprimands, and two senior leaders and three civilian employees were disciplined. But the Oswego whistleblower remains suspended.
The general in charge of an Army Reserve unit based in Darien has lost her command, and multiple soldiers have been reprimanded as the result of an investigation into allegations that sexual assault complaints were mishandled for years.
The investigation stemmed from a complaint by Amy Braley Franck, a civilian sexual assault victim advocate with the Army Reserve’s 416th Theater Engineer Command, which provides technical and engineering support for U.S. military forces and serves as the headquarters for nearly 11,000 soldiers in 26 states west of the Mississippi River.
Braley Franck, who lives in Oswego, accused the unit’s commanders of improperly opening internal investigations of two sexual assault complaints rather than referring them for criminal investigations.
The Army opened a review of the 416th Theater Engineer Command in January 2020 at the request of Illinois’ two U.S. senators, Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth. That followed an Associated Press report on Braley Franck’s accusations regarding the improper internal investigations of sexual assault complaints in the unit and retaliation against Braley Franck for blowing the whistle on them.
The Army investigation concluded that leaders of the 416th lacked even basic knowledge of how to handle complaints of sexual assaults and harassment.
Army officials also found that the unit failed to properly staff the offices that are supposed to support victims of sexual assault.
The 416th’s commanding general, Miyako Schanely, was suspended last summer as a result of the investigation. Pentagon officials now say Schanely, a two-star general, has relinquished her command and been given a formal reprimand.
Investigators found that Schanely:
- Failed to publish an updated sexual assault policy for the 416th for more than two years.
- Didn’t convene a sexual assault review board for 15 months even though the Department of Defense requires that such meetings be held every month.
- Left a job vacancy for a sexual assault response coordinator unfilled for nine months.
- And failed to conduct a survey of what it described as the unit’s command climate.
According to the Army’s newly released report on the findings of the investigation and the resulting disciplinary action, 12 soldiers have been reprimanded or given “counseling statements” — a minor disciplinary step — as a result of their actions.
The Pentagon also took “administrative actions” against two senior leaders.
Three civilian employees face similar unspecified sanctions.
Army officials did not identify those disciplined or elaborate on their violations, citing privacy concerns. And names were largely redacted from the investigatory findings.
The reprimands don’t necessarily stay with the soldiers for good. Rachel VanLandingham, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who teaches national security law at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, said generals could decide to remove a reprimand from soldiers’ files if their behavior improves.
But they also could use the past reprimands to justify tougher punishment if problems continue, according to VanLandingham.
And generals also could place a reprimand in a soldier’s permanent human resources file, which could hurt an officer’s chances at promotion, she said.
She described counseling statements as a “tiny slap on the wrist” and called them “practically meaningless.”
The problems within the 416th came to light in January 2020 when Braley Franck told the AP that commanders launched internal investigations into at least two sexual assault cases, one in 2018 and another in 2019.
Federal law and Defense Department policy require that commanders refer sexual assault complaints to criminal investigators in their respective branches to avoid biased investigations.
Braley Franck also said the 416th went months without holding a sexual assault management meeting and that the unit’s commanders put a woman on a firing range with someone she had accused of sexually harassing her, causing her to fear for her life.
“I can’t with a clear conscience say, ’Oh, yeah, report your sexual assault. We’ll take care of you,’ ” Braley Franck said.
The unit’s commanders suspended her in November 2019 in what she said was retailiation after she alerted the Army to the improper internal investigations.
In a similar case, the Wisconsin National Guard’s top commander, Adj. Gen. Donald Dunbar, resigned in December 2019 after a federal review found that he ran internal sexual assault investigations rather than forward complaints to the National Guard Bureau, as required.
Braley Franck said the Army’s findings confirm her original accusations.
“Everything substantiates my claims,” she said.
But she remains suspended.
She has a hearing scheduled in July on a grievance she filed with the Defense Department.
In response to the Army findings, Durbin and Duckworth said in a joint written statement that the issues that led to mishandling sexual assault cases in the 416th are “unacceptable” in the U.S. military.
They also said the investigation shows the Army is trying to improve how it handles sexual assault complaints.
“Service members cannot be silenced or abandoned for seeking justice and accountability,” the senators said.