Discovery of suspected drugs complicated investigation into TN s - WSMV Channel 4

Discovery of suspected drugs complicated investigation into TN soldiers overseas

Posted: Updated: Apr 29, 2016 01:13 PM
NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

Military investigators believed they discovered a drug rampant in Africa in the Ethiopia hotel room of a sergeant with the 775th Engineering Detachment from Jackson, TN, but the evidence was never analyzed, a military investigation shows.

Photographs included in a military investigative report show the drug Khat was found in the room of a staff sergeant at the Samrat Hotel in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia.

It’s the latest finding from a Channel 4 I-Team investigation into criminal actions by members of the National Guard unit while they were stationed in Djibouti, Africa, and Dire Dawa, Ethiopia. Click here to read the first I-Team report on this investigation.

A military investigation obtained for the first time by the I-Team detailed how nearly half of the unit from Tennessee was investigated in the summer of 2013 for having sex with prostitutes in an area of the world known for human trafficking.

One sergeant told investigators that the prostitutes were younger than his daughter, but the age of his daughter is blacked out in the report.

The investigation also shows that the unit received training to stay away from prostitutes because human trafficking was such a problem in Djibouti and Dire Dawa.

Military investigators also found probable cause that some soldiers allowed prostitutes in a room with weapons and secret documents.

We showed the investigation, and the claims of prostitutes being around classified materials and weapons, to military law attorney James Phillips.

"You're essentially violating national security in some form or fashion,” Phillips said. "It looked like they were going to these prostitutes, having sexual relations with them, at the same time there was classified materials around. That’s a pretty big violation."

The documents labeled “law enforcement sensitive” found the military investigation had mixed results.

Investigative agents determined that the sergeant’s room where the suspected Khat was found was frequented by other people, so it was unclear whose it was.

The documents show the drugs were never analyzed because the investigative agent didn’t want to risk transporting a known drug across international borders without approval from customs officials.

That sergeant was never punished as a result.

Even though soldiers repeatedly said in interviews with investigative agents that prostitutes were allowed into a sergeant’s room with weapons and classified documents, the findings from the report stated that the sergeant did not commit the offense of failure to obey an order of regulation when he allowed a known prostitute to enter the secure command room.

A large section of text following that statement was blacked out.

"What bothered me is that it did not look like the command addressed the level of severity that was part of these offenses,” Phillips said.

And even though military investigators found probable cause that nine soldiers had sex with prostitutes, a spokesman for the Tennessee National Guard wrote in an email that only seven were found to have, “received disciplinary measures ranging from letters of reprimand to reduction in rank and forfeiture of pay."

We repeatedly asked the spokesman for an interview to further explain the investigation, but he refused, writing that all our questions should go to the Combined Joint Command in the Horn of Africa that ultimately oversaw the 775th detachment.

Major Will Powell, public affairs director with the Combined Joint Task Force, also denied our request for an interview, only confirming that the Tennessee soldiers were sent home early from their deployment.

Powell did issue a statement that read in part, “The commander took decisive action and held the military members accountable for their actions. The conduct of the service members involved with this case was unacceptable and contrary to U.S. military values."

The soldiers’ names are blacked out in the report and the military refuses to identify them, even though if someone is charged in the United States for soliciting prostitutes, it is public record.

Phillips suspects if it had happened at Fort Campbell, the public would know about it.

"In the area I worked out of Fort Campbell, this would have been handled much more severely than the way they’re doing it here,” Phillips said.

The I-Team is appealing the military’s decision to black out the soldiers’ names. We have also requested, under the Freedom of Information Act, additional documentation that we hope further explains what happened.

To read the documents from the investigation, click here and here.

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