Women who say they were raped by fellow cadets at the United States Air Force Academy will finally get a chance to tell their stories directly to the people most able to help them: the Senate Armed Services Committee. Jessica Brakey, a cadet who was kicked out of the academy after she reported being raped, can't wait for the opportunity, which should come between now and March. "It's so they can see us face to face and see that we're human beings," she says. "We've never had a chance to address anyone except through the media."
But while she waits for that opportunity and a long-anticipated Defense Department Inspector General report on the role academy leaders played in the crisis, other cadets involved in the events of the last year have gotten some answers.
Andrea Prasse, a cadet who was kicked out of the academy eight days before she was supposed to graduate in May 2002, was finally promised her degree. Andrea claims that after she spurned the advances of a male classmate, he harassed her and wrongly accused her of lying about how she'd completed a class project. After a board of her peers found her guilty of violating the academy honor code -- We will not lie, steal, or cheat, nor tolerate among us anyone who does -- she was disenrolled ("Take These Wings," July 17, 2003). She's been fighting that decision ever since.
But Christmas came early for Andrea. On December 19, Air Force Secretary James Roche sent the Wisconsin woman's attorney a brief letter stating that he was overturning the disenrollment decision; she just received her diploma. But she hasn't decided yet whether to apply for a waiver of her Air Force service commitment or enlist in the reserves.
"A lot of questions are still unanswered," her mother, Carol Prasse, says. "She had her whole life planned out, and when that was so abruptly taken away, she had to rethink everything, so I don't think she's made any decisions yet."
For now, Andrea is working toward a master's degree in engineering physics at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. And her mother is waiting for the academy to revamp its honor system, which has disenrolled numerous cadets for seemingly minor infractions ("Honor Rolled," July 17, 2003). "I know that the honor system doesn't work in the majority of cases," Carol says. "You simply can't have twenty-year-olds administering this kind of justice. For them to make career-ending decisions for their peers is wrong."
Although Brigadier General Johnny Weida, the new commandant of cadets, stands by the honor system, he is looking into it. "Even before the decision was made on the Prasse case, I had asked our honor division to look at the honor code and to come up with a campaign plan to see if we can't improve on how we educate our cadets in the honor code, how we administer the honor code, our honor system, if you will," he says. He expects that his staff will report back to him on the findings sometime this semester. But so far, he says, "there have been no eurekas. I don't foresee any major changes."
Former cadets and a former academy defense attorney who represented those facing honor charges predicted last summer that the academy would crack down on any cadet infractions as a way to show the public that it doesn't tolerate bad behavior. In December, two cadets experienced that first-hand. Nineteen-year-old Christina Fifer turned herself in for underage drinking because she said she believed in the academy's honor code. But when she refused to obey a commander's order to name the cadet who provided the alcohol, she was on the path to disenrollment. After New Mexico congresswoman Heather Wilson came to her defense, though, the academy agreed not to kick Fifer out. But Cadet David Urton wasn't so lucky. He got in trouble for taking beer to a party attended by underage cadets ("Strike One, You're Out!" December 18, 2003). Superintendent Lieutenant General John Rosa has since recommended that Urton be discharged and serve two years' enlisted time -- even though he was of age and didn't give the beer to the minors. The final decision now rests with Roche.
And the academy has no plans to back down from its strict new zero-tolerance alcohol policy. "The policy is clear for the Agenda for Change," Weida says. "I've further clarified it in a commandant's guidance that every one of the cadets signed off on. I've also talked to them about it en masse. The issue in our great Air Force is, when you have a standard, you enforce that standard. You violate that standard at your own peril."
Douglas Meester, the first cadet to be charged with rape since the scandal broke, is now awaiting a court martial. Freshman Justine Parks accused the sophomore of raping and sodomizing her in his dorm room in the fall of 2002. She testified at a hearing last May that Douglas had taken advantage of her after she became numb from drinking tequila and blacked out. She said she was too weak to resist and doesn't recall saying no. And, Justine told investigators, she "knew for a fact that he probably thought what we were doing was consensual." ("The Accused," May 22, 2003). Douglas has since positioned himself as a scapegoat. The hearing officer in the case recommended against a court martial, but Weida ordered one anyway. And when Douglas asked Roche to let him resign rather than face a military trial, his request was denied. A date for court martial has not been set.
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Another former cadet accused of rape has shown up on a Web site that identifies people who solicit minors for sex in regional Internet chat rooms. DonCosta Seawell pleaded guilty in 2002 to forcibly sodomizing a disabled civilian woman and was dismissed from the academy and sent to Miramar, a military correctional facility in San Diego. Two female cadets also accused him of rape, but the academy says their complaints weren't pursued because of lack of evidence. According to academy spokeswoman Pam Ancker, Seawell was released from Miramar on December 29.
Earlier this month, an adult posing in a local Yahoo chat room as a fourteen-year-old girl entered a conversation with a 25-year-old Colorado Springs man going by the screen name the_donjuan02; he asked the alleged minor to meet with him and have sex. The adult who busted him on January 15 -- just seventeen days after he was released from Miramar -- later found pictures the_donjuan02 had posted on a Yahoo photo album. She copied one of him wearing an Air Force Academy sweatshirt and posted it on http://perverted-justice.com/ .
Former Air Force cadets who knew DonCosta confirmed that he is, in fact, the man in the photo. The Yahoo profile for the_donjuan02 was updated on January 18 to show an obviously fictitious identity and a photo of an obese 42-year-old woman named Lisa. And the cell-phone number that "Don Juan" provided in the chat was disconnected on January 23. Xavier Von Erck, director of Perverted-Justice.com, says his staff of volunteers doesn't tip off police but does cooperate with authorities if they're contacted; as far as he knows, there is currently no police involvement in the "Don Juan" bust.
Read related stories in our Inside the Air Force Academy archive