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Complaint: Shaw report 'makes excuses' for alleged harassers

Jan. 7, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Retired Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Smith is seeking a reinvestigation of her allegations of sexual harassment at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C.
Retired Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Smith is seeking a reinvestigation of her allegations of sexual harassment at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. (Courtesy of Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Smith)
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A retired technical sergeant says an investigation released in October into allegations of ongoing sexual harassment at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., is “biased and inadequate.”

A complaint, filed Tuesday on behalf of retired Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Smith, says the Air Force investigation “makes excuses for offenders” and “minimizes the seriousness of the offenses.”

In her appeal to the Air Force, Smith is seeking a re-investigation of allegations of sexual harassment she made two years ago — this time an investigation by military officials outside her chain of command.

Smith, who worked as an aviation resource management specialist at Shaw, said in an Air Force Times interview a year ago she had endured sexual harassment and assault throughout her 17-year military career for fear of being retaliated against. She said she decided to make her initial complaint following an assault outside a base gym during a 2010 deployment to Iraq and her leadership’s subsequent refusal to address complaints about pages of violent and sexually explicit content she found on an operations group computer server at Shaw two years ago.

The Air Force Inspector General investigated her complaints. Maj. Gen. Lawrence Wells, then-commander of the 9th Air Force, also directed an investigation.

“The IG report was an important first step in recognizing the problems of sexual harassment in the Air Force,” Ryan Guilds, an attorney representing Smith, said in an email statement. “But it is not enough. Ultimately, the Inspector General’s report minimized the seriousness of the substantiated offenses, recommended few meaningful corrective actions, and failed to adequately address the stark reality of the Air Force: that sexual harassment in the Air Force is a way of life for the brave women who serve our country.”

The findings from the command-directed investigation revealed in October that eight officers, including two colonels, five lieutenant colonels and a captain, failed to prevent or investigate sexual harassment, condoned or refused to remove sexually offensive material and tolerated drinking alcohol during debriefs and academics.

Air Combat Command said at the time that six officers who were assigned to the 20th Fighter Wing at Shaw had received disciplinary action, including letters of admonishment or counseling and removal from assignments. One of the officers left active duty before the investigation was complete, and action was pending against the eighth officer.

The report did not name the officers and the Air Force refused to name them, citing privacy issues.

“They found that the senior officers were not taking steps to protect Jen and people like her, yet we don’t know anything that happened to the senior officers who were found responsible,” Guilds said in an interview with Air Force Times.

“Ultimately, like the original complaint, this appeal seeks a remedy for the willful and repeated failure of Air Force officials to address pervasive sexual discrimination among its ranks,” the appeal states.

Air Force Lt. Col. Laurel Tingley said the service has not received the appeal and cannot comment on it.

Smith’s appeal also takes issue with the oversight of the investigation, claiming that Wells, who has since retired, “was himself a subject of the investigation.”

An Air Force Inspector General report in July cleared Wells of any wrongdoing, stating that the now-retired commander “did not fail to provide for an environment free from sexual harassment” and that he “need not be recused” from directing the investigation.

Smith’s primary objective, Guilds said, “is to have some clarity around what they found in terms of the repor. First, it has a lot of conclusory statements — it didn’t find this allegation proven but they don’t say why. The Air Force essentially asks us to trust them. And we don’t, quite frankly.”

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