An Army general accused of sexual misconduct with his subordinates has avoided jail time in one of the military’s most closely watched courts-martial.
Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair, who carried on a three-year affair with a captain and had two other inappropriate relationships with subordinates, was officially reprimanded and fined $20,000 Thursday. The former deputy commander of the 82nd Airborne Division was believed to be the highest-ranking U.S. military officer ever court-martialed on sexual assault charges, but earlier this week those charges were dropped when he pleaded guilty to inappropriate relationships with the three women.
Sinclair, 51, smiled and hugged his two lawyers in the courtroom. Outside the building, he made a brief statement.
“The system worked. I’ve always been proud of my Army,” said Sinclair, who plans to retire, according to his attorney. “All I want to do now is go north and hug my kids and my wife.”
The case unfolded with the Pentagon under heavy pressure to confront what it has called an epidemic of rape and other sexual misconduct in the ranks.
As part of the plea deal, Sinclair’s sentence could not exceed terms in a sealed agreement between defense lawyers and military attorneys. The agreement, unsealed Thursday, called for Sinclair to serve no more than 18 months in jail, but Col. James Pohl’s punishment was much lighter. The judge could have dismissed Sinclair from the Army, which would have likely wiped out his Veterans Administration healthcare and military retirement benefits.
The Army’s case against Sinclair started to crumble as questions arose about his primary accuser’s credibility and whether military officials improperly rejected a previous plea deal because of political concerns.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., called the case a strong argument for her recent, unsuccessful effort to strip commanders of the authority to prosecute cases and give that power to seasoned military lawyers.
“This case has illustrated a military justice system in dire need of independence from the chain of command,” Gillibrand said in a statement.
Elaine Donnelly, president of the Center for Military Readiness and a former member of the 1992 Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces, said this case was not evidence that the military justice system failed. If the Gillibrand bill had been in effect, Donnelly said, the case probably wouldn’t have been brought to trial.
“This happens so often [in] he-said-she-said type of cases,” Donnelly said. “It’s not always clear what justice should be. But it sounds like the judge did the best he could in balancing the various factors to get to a just result.”
Sinclair will now go before Fort Bragg commander Maj. Gen. Clarence K.K. Chinn, who approved Sinclair’s plea deal. He will receive either a verbal or written reprimand, and then he’ll appear before a board to determine whether he will lose any rank, which could cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits.