DARMSTADT, Germany — Although the U.S. military establishment has insisted that the sex scandal at a training facility in Aberdeen, Md., is an aberration, a court-martial that opened here Monday offers troubling echoes: Three sergeants are accused of sexually harassing and abusing female soldiers under their command who participated in an orientation program upon their arrival in Europe.
As in Aberdeen, there are charges that the alleged wrong-doing had occurred for a long time and had been ignored until one determined soldier stepped forward with her accusations. The accused here, as in Aberdeen, allegedly tried to silence witnesses once they learned they were in trouble.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday June 4, 1997 Home Edition Part A Page 3 Metro Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Court-martial--In Tuesday's editions, The Times misstated the rank of a U.S. Army defendant charged with rape and assault in Germany. He is Sgt. 1st Class Julius Davis.
And, as in Aberdeen, the Darmstadt case is likely to intensify unwelcome questions about the successful integration of the U.S. armed forces, since the accused are all veteran black soldiers and their accusers are young, white women.
On Monday, the first defendant, Sgt. First Class Julius Davis, stood calmly in court while his lawyer pleaded his innocence on six counts of rape, one count of attempted rape, one count of forcible sodomy, 11 counts of cruelty and maltreatment of subordinates and 19 other counts involving indecent assault, kidnapping and other crimes.
His trial is expected to end this week and will be followed next week by the court-martial of his fellow instructor, Sgt. Paul Fuller, who also faces multiple charges of rape, attempted rape, forcible sodomy and cruelty toward a subordinate.
Staff Sgt. Robert Robinson, a third instructor from Darmstadt, has been accused of mistreatment of a female soldier and of fraternization, but the investigation of his activities is continuing and no trial has been scheduled.
Davis' court-martial is the first such sex trial in Europe since the Aberdeen scandal, in which more than a dozen trainees accused drill sergeants of sexual harassment and, in some cases, rape. After making those charges public last November, the Army appointed a panel to investigate the extent of its sexual-abuse problem and set up a hotline to take complaints.
Army officials here said that Davis' trial is proof that the system is working. "We can never promise we won't have any incidents" of sexually related wrongdoing, said Hilde Patton, a spokeswoman for the Army's V Corps. "No institution can promise that. What's important here is how it's dealt with, whether you can create an atmosphere in which a woman feels she can report a problem and it will be handled correctly."
But Davis' defense argued in court that his trial and that of Fuller are evidence of a new "witch hunt" mentality in the Army, in which military law-enforcement agents, embarrassed by the Aberdeen cases, are investigating abuse allegations--however spurious--with excessive zeal.
"What the government has done is gone out and searched for witnesses and [sought] to build a case which does not exist," Maj. Linda Taylor, the defense counsel, told the five-man military jury. "The witnesses, in fact, were netted in an expensive [military police] search, brought in and told they were victims of rape."
Taylor asserted that some "victims" would not have considered themselves as such--and would not have pressed charges--if the Army's Criminal Investigation Division had not talked them into it.
The trouble in Darmstadt started late last November--not long after the Aberdeen scandal broke--when an unidentified female soldier complained of sexual harassment in the "Inprocessing Training Center," or ITC, a facility that receives and orients all new arrivals to Darmstadt and other U.S. Army facilities nearby. Trainees spend two weeks at the ITC, learning about all aspects of Army life in Europe, then move on to their units.
All three sergeants charged in these proceedings were members of the "cadre," a group ranked one step below the ITC commander, First Sgt. George Watlington. He was replaced by a woman last February and is under investigation for dereliction of duty.
After thoroughly instructing the jury Monday morning, the court-martial began calling prosecution witnesses. Davis was described repeatedly as a flirtatious superior who had a habit of making subordinates hug him before allowing them to leave rooms and tents.
Some women testified that they had spurned Davis' alleged advances without suffering any recriminations. But others testified that they were intimidated by a man they perceived as their boss and went along reluctantly with what they thought he wanted.
Pvt. Kelly Isom, of the 32nd Signal Battalion, told the court that she celebrated her 21st birthday last December by getting drunk on tequila, triple sec and a mixed drink, "Sex on the Beach." She then ran into Davis and Fuller, who invited her and a girlfriend to "a club." They took them, instead, to Fuller's apartment, where they gave them even more tequila.
Isom testified that she passed out and when she regained consciousness, "I was laying on my back on the bed with none of my clothes on and Sgt. Davis was having sexual intercourse with me."
She went on to assert that Davis sat on her chest, and, while she was semiconscious, tried to get her to perform another sex act. She said that they had intercourse again. Finally, she said, he took her to a Turkish fast-food stand for breakfast, then dropped her off behind a supermarket so that no one would see them together.
The defense challenged Isom's testimony, forcing her to acknowledge that she had told Davis he was "a handsome man." The defense also suggested that other witnesses would testify she had flirted with him, danced with him and unbuttoned her own blouse for him. Isom said she could not recall doing any of those things.