Investigators are also scrutinizing allegations that the sergeant may have forced a subordinate into prostitution, according to a U.S. official familiar with the case.
Army Secretary John McHugh acknowledged Wednesday that investigators were looking into suspicions that the sergeant was involved in “pandering,” or promoting prostitution. “They’re pursuing all the possibilities,” he said in a brief interview at the Pentagon. “We have to remember they are just allegations at this point. Until the criminal investigation is completed, it’s unwise for us to speculate”
McHugh said he learned about the investigation Sunday night. Defense officials said he informed Hagel on Tuesday morning and that the defense secretary in turn notified President Obama during a meeting at the White House Tuesday afternoon.
The Army investigation comes just 10 days after a lieutenant colonel who led the Air Force’s sexual-assault prevention programs was arrested in Arlington County on charges that he groped and battered a woman in a parking lot. That incident, along with fresh statistics showing that sex crimes have become endemic in the military, sparked a furious response from lawmakers on Capitol Hill and President Obama.
Hagel warned last week that the military’s ability to recruit and perform its missions was becoming endangered by deepening public perceptions that the armed forces are unable or unwilling to cope with a sexual-assault crisis in the ranks. The latest embarrassment only made him more angry, Pentagon officials said.
“He is going to spare no effort to address this problem,” George Little, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters Wednesday. Little said the public, lawmakers and military personnel “have the right to be outraged” about the Fort Hood investigation.
Neither the Pentagon nor the Army identified the sergeant because no charges have been filed. Special agents from the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command are probing allegations that the sergeant first class mistreated subordinates, committed assault and abusive sexual contact, and engaged in pandering, the Pentagon said in a statement.
Officials said the noncommissioned officer had been suspended from duties as an “equal-opportunity adviser” and sexual-harassment and assault prevention officer at Fort Hood, one of the Army’s biggest installations. The Pentagon did not disclose when the allegations first came to light or how many victims may have been involved.