The Army said Friday that it has taken disciplinary action against 21 officers and non-commissioned officers at Fort Hood, Texas, in connection with the death last year of Spc. Vanessa Guillén, who was missing for about two months before her remains were found.
The punishments, which include firing eight senior commanders, are the latest Army moves in response to Guillén’s disappearance and death, which brought to light widespread leadership failures at a base that had high rates of sexual assault, harassment, drug use, and other problems.
Also, in a new revelation, an Army report blamed the military for allowing Guillén’s killer to escape from custody and ultimately kill himself. It found that “poor communication” between soldiers keeping watch on Spc. Aaron Robinson failed to clearly note that he was a soldier of “heightened interest,” contributing to his ability to flee from a conference room. He committed suicide while being pursued.
While the discipline announced Friday represents a sweeping condemnation of soldiers in Guillén’s chain of command, no criminal charges have been brought against any of the soldiers. Instead, the soldiers were relieved of command or given formal letters of reprimand that will go into their permanent files or both. In many cases such discipline is career-ending.
The investigation, led by Gen. John Murray, head of Army Futures Command, concluded that Guillén was sexually harassed by another soldier — a charge that commanders at the base denied for months. Maj. Gen. Gene LeBoeuf, Forces Command chief of staff, told reporters Friday that the soldier who harassed her is among those disciplined.
He declined to identify that person, but said it was not Robinson, the soldier investigators say killed her. Robinson killed himself on July 1 as police were trying to take him into custody. The family has identified the soldier who harassed her as Sgt. 1st Class Jovanny Rivera.
The report said the investigating officer “found no credible evidence to conclude” that Robinson sexually harassed Guillén or that they had any relationship outside of their work setting. And it did not find a motive in the killing. Instead, it said Robinson sexually harassed another soldier.
Guillén’s family has said that he harassed Guillén. “If you can’t say why he murdered her, you can’t say he didn’t sexually harass her,” said Guillén family attorney Natalie Khawam in an interview with The Associated Press Friday.
An independent review panel created to dig into the problems at the base concluded last December that military leaders at the base were not adequately dealing with high rates of sexual assault, harassment, drug use, and other problems.
It also found that the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command, or CID, was understaffed, overwhelmed, and filled with inexperienced investigators.
The panel’s chairman told members of Congress in a hearing earlier this year that the base leadership was focused on military readiness, and “completely and utterly neglected” the sexual assault prevention program. As a result, he said, lower-level unit commanders didn’t encourage service members to report assaults, and in many cases were shaming victims or were actually the perpetrators themselves.
In an interview with the AP Friday, Guillén’s sisters Lupe and Mayra expressed frustration.
“For me personally, I am barely halfway through the report. It is very emotional for me to re-read everything we have had to go through and to re-read certain things stated in favor of the Army,” Mayra Guillén said. “It has been really frustrating to read everything and remind me of the details we once lived through.”