U.S. Air Force v. TSgt
Charges (Article 92, Article 108, Article 121).
Beale AFB, CA
This case was an Article 15 Turndown. Our client was read an Article 15 for dereliction of duty, failing to follow orders, suffering military property to be destroyed, and wrongful appropriation of multiple pieces of military equipment. Our client is a SERE instructor. He was paired with another TSgt who was senior to him and his boss. One day, our client laid out prospective leave plans with him and his buddies to go to the Mohave, camp out and ride dirt bikes. His boss decided that they should turn it into a Permissive TDY trip and use it as an opportunity to conduct training on their RZR, a government utility vehicle. The idea was to use the RZR to look for sites to conduct downed pilot training and to further train augmentees on driving the RZR. A few months later, our client’s boss told him that he couldn’t go on the trip and further wouldn’t authorize TDY for the trip. However, he did tell our client to take the equipment and conduct the training. Our client protested stating this isn’t a good idea and that he wasn’t comfortable taking the equipment whilst he was on leave. His boss told him to do it anyway…and he further stated he wasn’t canceling his leave. So, our client takes the RZR along with two augmentees down to the Mojave for their camping trip/training event. On the first day of training, the RZR catches fire and burns to the ground. The team had to wait for the RZR to cool down and then they had to use tow straps and winches to pull it back onto the trailer. Our client informed his boss who replied that he probably should get back as soon as he could because there would likely be an investigation. The Boss threw our client under the bus. He said that they were taking the RZR down to do training, but that he specifically DID NOT authorize this training to occur. The problem with the boss’s statement was the fact that the original conversation about this was overheard by a witness in the next-door office. The next-door office had a vent that shared the wall…and you can hear the next rooms conversations almost as clearly as you could as if you were in the room.
When our client approached us to take this on, we immediately interviewed the witness next door. We further interviewed all the individuals that went on the trip to the Mohave to determine if this was indeed a training event. Armed with information that exonerated our client, I met with our client’s Commander over the phone with his legal counsel. I advised them of why were turning this Article 15 down, provided them the evidence and further warned that it would not be a good idea to take this to trial. Unfortunately, stupidity prevailed, and my client was charged.
Once our client was charged, I convinced my client to IMC a particular Air Force ADC that I had worked and won cases with already. We secured the very first Air Force Defense Investigator to join our team wherein we proceeded to do a deeper dive into the case. We found out that the model of RZR used was known to have manufacturer defects causing it to catch fire. We further secured a fire inspection expert to review the wreckage and tell us the cause of the fire. The fire expert’s conclusion was that it was a manufacture’s defect. Finally, the whole team went and visited the camp site and the burn site in the Mohave. We drove the trails our client and his team drove. We inspected the site. We took photos and samples. We thoroughly investigated the matter.
At trial, the Government Counsel included the Deputy SJA. He decided to put himself on the case. Their theme and theory was that our client knowingly violated numerous regulations to do whatever he wanted. They made a big deal out of our client not wearing proper protective equipment (PPE). They even went as far as to say that there were rules and regulations in place that fed a training plan that was supposedly written and made a part of the vehicle binder for the RZR. The prosecutors had the Judge Judicially notice certain regulations to show that the training plan was based on those regulations.
During cross examination, I exposed our clients boss for the liar that he was. I confronted him on the fact he also didn’t wear PPE, that he gave morale rides to numerous members of the command (to include the female physical trainer for the Wing), and finally nailed him down on when he developed the training plan. He stated he developed the training plan shortly after he purchased the RZR for the shop. The invoice stated the RZR was purchased in October of 2019. The boss further stated that the training plan was based on air force instructions and federal regulations. The problem with that is that the Government had judicially noticed instructions and regulations that were made in 2021 and 2022.
In the defense case-in-chief we put on the photos we gathered, had the expert testify and finally put our witness on that overheard the conversation that the boss lied about.
Our client was fully exonerated.
It is important that a thorough and in-depth analysis of the case is done before turning down an Article 15.
NOT GUILTY of all Charges and Specifications!