Instructors at an Aberdeen Proving Ground school found many ways to abuse their power over young female Army recruits, creating an atmosphere of improper intimacy and sometimes vicious intimidation, documents released yesterday allege.
The first details of a growing sex scandal at the U.S. Ordnance Center and School at APG emerged when the Army released criminal charges against three military trainers.
The documents show:
Sgt. Delmar Simpson, 31, is accused of raping three female recruits he was training at Aberdeen Proving Ground a total of nine times within three months.
Capt. Derrick Robertson, 30, a soldier for 11 years and a company commander, is accused of raping a student with whom he'd been having a relationship and telling her to lie about it if questioned.
Sgt. Nathanael C. Beach, 32, a Persian Gulf war veteran, allegedly had consensual sex with two female recruits, discussed his religious beliefs and ordered one to write a research paper for him, then disobeyed orders to stay away while he was under investigation.
The three men, who are expected to be court-martialed, have denied the charges.
Two other sergeants face disciplinary action for improper relations with trainees, including one who wrote a love letter to a trainee.
Taken together, the documents portray an Army post far different from the disciplined image of drill instructors sternly shouting orders to fresh recruits.
Fifteen additional Army sergeants have been suspended at the school in the scandal as female soldiers continue to come forward with tales of sexual harassment as well as prohibited personal relationships with superiors, the Army announced yesterday. The allegations range from lewd comments to assault.
Of the 15 who have been suspended from training the recruits and assigned to other duties, at least two are expected to face court-martial charges for improper relations, said Army sources.
Seventeen recruits have made allegations against their trainers in incidents that extend at least to spring. Army officials learned of the sexual misconduct allegations when a young woman reported in September that she had been raped.
Many of the women were pulled into relationships and endured abuse because they feared retribution from their supervisors, said an Army source close to the investigation.
"A lot of them got influenced because they thought they would get in trouble or get kicked out of the military if they didn't obey," the source said. "That's why a lot of them fell for what some of the sergeants said. The trainees are taught to put trust in their drill sergeants."
The most extensive charges are against Simpson, who is being held at the Marine brig in Quantico, Va.
In addition to accusations that he raped the three women, he is charged with one attempted rape, three counts of sodomy on two female soldiers and six counts of indecent assault against four female soldiers. In all, he is accused by eight women, although it was unclear from the edited documents how many charges related to the same women.
He is alleged to have had consensual sex with seven of them and faces other charges of "maltreatment of a subordinate."
Simpson is accused of threatening three female soldiers, according to the documents, allegedly telling one: "If anyone finds out about me having sex with you, I'll kill you." He warned another, "I am going to knock your teeth out and get away with it," the documents say. Two of the four students who accuse him of "indecent acts" say he grabbed or rubbed their buttocks.
Capt. Edward Brady, Simpson's attorney, said it is too soon to comment on the investigation. "Staff Sergeant Simpson believes there is an appropriate time and an appropriate place to present the facts. He has professed his innocence since the beginning and he continues to do so today," Brady said.
Military rules forbid personal or sexual relationships between officers and their subordinates. "Fraternization" is barred because of the power imbalance and because of the disruption to the unit.
Fraternization can be as simple as calling a recruit by his or her first name or having a drink with a recruit, but the charges generally involve romance. Penalties vary from restrictions and counseling of a new recruit to two years in jail and a dishonorable discharge.
Robertson, in his vehement denial of the rape charge, said it was brought by a disgruntled girlfriend, but he admitted he was guilty of having an improper relationship with the trainee.
"How often do officers have relationships with soldiers? I can't begin to tell you," Robertson said in an interview at his Joppatowne home yesterday. "I can't pinpoint for you how many times something like that happens, but it happens. Everybody knows it happens."
Such romances are not uncommon at the ordnance school -- or other Army installations, he said.
"You're hit on just about every day here and other places as well," he said Thursday. "It's human nature. I don't care who you are or where you are, sooner or later someone will find you attractive."
Beach declined to comment when reached yesterday at his home on the Army's Edgewood Arsenal base. "You have to understand I have to protect myself," he said. "It could mean 13 years down the drain."
It remains uncertain at the ordnance center whether women complained earlier and were ignored by higher-ups. The school's commander, Maj. Gen. Robert D. Shadley, asked for an independent review as early as late September to determine whether there was a systemic pattern in the complaints being brought forward.
As many as 1,000 women who trained since January 1995 at the Aberdeen school are being interviewed. The school provides three to eight weeks of mechanical maintenance instruction for small arms, vehicles and generators.
A toll-free hot line -- (800) 903-4241 -- has been flooded with calls, with some young women reporting that they've been mistreated verbally and sexually. Other women said they sometimes were singled out for special treatment or favors from superiors.
By Friday, more than 50 calls were logged from women, most of them trainees, who complained of everything from obscene taunts and insults to sexual abuse over the years at the school.
Another 60 callers complained about problems at other military installations around the country, said Ed Starnes, an ordnance school spokesman. They have been referred to investigators. An additional 1,300 callers ranged from supporters to cranks.
"We really didn't know what to expect," he said. "We thought at first we would receive mostly parents' inquiries, but we're receiving more than we thought we would this early on from alleged victims. We don't know if that's in response to the fact that we're willing to listen or they've just been waiting to tell somebody."
At the flat, sprawling base with its barracks and drab military buildings, male and female soldiers went about their weekend errands yesterday dressed casually in Army sweat shirts and jeans. Some talked about the allegations and described a flirtatious atmosphere amid the daily rituals of drills, classes and athletics.
A 19-year-old woman, who said she is a friend of one of the accusers and would not give her name, said some instructors seem to enjoy the attention of the recruits, most of whom are just out of high school and basic training.
"They like it that the girls look up to them," she said.
But Pvt. Tamara Atwell, 18, was surprised at the notion of romantic relations between officers and their trainees. Like several other students, she said the military companies at Aberdeen varied, and she credited hers with a professional attitude.
"From what I know of the people here, they're professional," said Atwell of southern Virginia, who joined the Army five months ago. "All of this makes this place look a lot worse than it is."
Pvt. Matt Amos, 19, of Copenhagen, N.Y., and a group of his friends stood in front of the commissary paying for a taxi ride off base. Amos, who is training with the National Guard, said, "We think it's messed up. We're sorry for the victims, but it seems to have been blown out of proportion."
Pub Date: 11/10/96