COLORADO SPRINGS (Tribune News Service) — The Pentagon's inspector general found that a former Air Force Academy boss hindered an investigation into athlete misconduct, including drug use and sexual assault, by shielding football coach Troy Calhoun from questioning but determined that the issue didn't rise to the level of "impeding the investigation."
While critical of former Superintendent Lt. Gen. Mike Gould, the 32-page report obtained by The Gazette on Friday cleared the academy on allegations of special treatment for a football player suspected of drug use and an officer's interference in a sexual assault case.
The report is also critical of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, an independent agency that probes misconduct across the service. OSI agents at the academy, the report says, didn't document allegations of command interference in investigations and didn't insist on quizzing Calhoun.
"We determined that AFOSI special agents and leadership did not document in the investigative case files their communications about the proposed interview or the reason they did not interview the USAFA head football coach."
In interviews with investigators, Gould denied he hampered OSI efforts.
"I, in no way, did anything to impede their investigation, or to slow it down, or anything else," Gould said. "I don't know what else to tell you."
The finding that Gould didn't "impede" the investigation essentially clears him of regulatory violations. A Department of Defense rule says a commander "shall not impede or interfere with investigations or investigative techniques deemed appropriate" by investigators.
Former Air Force chief prosecutor Col. Don Christensen, now president of the military sexual assault advocacy group Protect Our Defenders, said the absence of punishment for the general is cause for concern.
"It is something that borders on criminal misconduct as far as I'm concerned," Christensen said.
Gould didn't respond to an email seeking comment.
The report was initiated after a 2014 Gazette investigation.
At parties dating back to 2010, a group of cadets who included some football players smoked synthetic marijuana, drank themselves sick and may have used date-rape drugs to incapacitate women for sexual assault, documents obtained by The Gazette showed.
The culture was so wild that academy leaders canceled a planned 2012 sting operation out of concern that undercover agents and confidential informants at a party wouldn't be enough to protect women from rape.
Pentagon investigators found that, at the height of investigation into that misconduct, Gould blocked investigators who wanted to question Calhoun, an academy graduate who has led the Falcons to bowl games in eight of his nine seasons at the helm.
"We did determine that he denied an AFOSI special agent's request to interview," the Calhoun report said.
The report says OSI agents wanted to interview coaches because they might have had information about the players' behavior.
An OSI official told Pentagon investigators that agents heard allegations that assistant "coaches may have known about these off-base residences, may have known about some of the stuff going on. And that more particularly that maybe some of the assistant coaches had covered up some of the stuff."
Inspector general investigators later interviewed Calhoun and an assistant who denied knowledge of athlete misconduct, the report said.
Athletic director Hans Mueh has since retired. The academy has said the school has changed how it trains athletes and launched a campaign to stamp out misconduct in the ranks.
"It is important to highlight the report concluded that there is no systemic problem here; and therefore did not make any recommendations for the academy," the academy's current superintendent, Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, wrote in a letter to investigators.
"While we prefer to look forward and cannot control things that happened in the past, we acknowledge the subculture of cadet behavior described was inconsistent with the culture of commitment and climate of respect we work hard to uphold here," she wrote.
While clearing Air Force Academy leaders apart from Gould, the report ripped OSI agents at the school on several fronts.
The Office of Special Investigations exists outside the influence of local commanders and is empowered to work independently, but the report found that OSI was overly deferential to Gould.
"Our evaluation found a lack of documentation at all levels within AFOSI regarding the decision not to interview the football coach and the communications pertaining to the decision," the report said.
The inspector general also reviewed OSI handling of 56 drug and sexual assault cases - including 12 involving football players - initiated between 2011 and 2012.
Those investigations were tied to "Operation Gridiron" - a string of probes that started with tips from a cadet informant, Eric Thomas. Thomas was kicked out of the academy shortly before his graduation for minor disciplinary infractions.
Thomas has maintained that he picked up the demerits as an informant while complying with orders from OSI, but the agency refused to defend him at an expulsion hearing. This week, the Air Force turned back Thomas' final appeal to be reinstated to the academy.
Thomas' attorney Skip Morgan, a 1972 academy graduate, said he wasn't surprised.
"This whole thing has been a cover-up," he said.
The inspector general found that OSI botched an investigation into Thomas' most sensational claim about a 2011 party in Manitou Springs involving several football players.
"The girls' drink, or Captain Morgan with the blue lid, was only for girls to drink," Thomas told investigators in a written statement obtained by The Gazette. The blue-capped bottle, he said, was laced with "roofies," a street term for flunitrazepam, known as a date-rape drug.
Thomas told investigators that "four or five females did not recall what occurred the following day after the party."
In one bedroom during the party, "multiple male cadets had sexual intercourse with other unknown females," Thomas alleged. The inspector general found that OSI didn't properly investigate the claim.
"Specifically, the victims alleged they ingested, without their consent, a drug that rendered them unable to recall the events of the evening," the report found. "However, AFOSI special agents did not go to the crime scene (the party location) to search for evidence or collect evidence from the victims."
Morgan said the findings show the Air Force is reluctant to take on the football team and was willing to sacrifice Thomas' career to keep the misconduct quiet.
"They're not willing to look any deeper," he said.
The academy sent The Gazette the same statement Friday that it sent to investigators in response to the report.
"Recognition of this prior cadet misconduct caused us to refocus and enhance our culture and climate," the statement said. "We have taken a number of actions to ingrain a culture consistent with our Air Force core values."
The report showed that in some cases, though, Air Force values are flexible.
Investigators probed whether an Air Force running back suspected of drug use got special treatment when he was allowed to play in the 2011 Military Bowl in Washington. Academy leaders wanted the player suspended. OSI agents, though, pushed to put him on the field so other cadets wouldn't suspect the sweeping scope of the football program probe.
"OSI's request to allow the cadet to play in the game was not made or granted to treat the cadet football player more favorably than any other cadet who was the subject of an investigation," the report said. "It was to ensure that ongoing Operation Gridiron investigations, which were covert, were not compromised."
Christensen said the Air Force's handling of the football case, including Gould's meddling in the investigation, shows the military has a long way to go in upholding its values.
"It's sadly another example of military leadership failing to address sexual assault and putting too much faith in high-ranking commanders to act appropriately."
©2016 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
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