Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Fulton draws six months, will stay in the Army

Army captain gets six months
confinement for role in trainee abuse

Turret Staff Writer

A Fort Knox captain accused of dereliction of duty, false swearing, and trainee maltreatment was sentenced Tuesday to six months confinement by a general court-martial held in Pike Hall on post.

Capt. William Fulton pleaded not guilty to charges of willful dereliction of duty, maltreatment of subordinates, and false swearing when the court-martial began Monday, and was found guilty of the lesser charge of negligent dereliction of duty and of false swearing.

Fulton was found not guilty of the maltreatment charges in connection with allegations of abuse of trainees while commanding Company E, 1st Battalion, 81st Armor Regiment, a One Station Unit Training company in the 1st Armor Training Brigade.

The court did not dismiss Fulton from the Army, and his sentence is pending approval from the court-martial convening authority, Maj. Gen. Terry Tucker, the Fort Knox commander.

Lt. Col. Richard Anderson was the presiding military judge in the court-martial.

Representing the United States in the case, prosecutors Capt. Steve Berlin and Capt. Joseph Krill alleged that Fulton had personally abused a Company E recruit, supposedly punching a trainee in the stomach while attempting to take away his inhaler during the initial basic training contraband shakedown.

"(Fulton) grabbed my hand and in one motion punched me in the chest," one former trainee testified.

He was also accused of standing by and watching as another Soldier was thrown by the collar of his field jacket through a door on the second floor of the Company E barracks by a company drill sergeant.

The recruits arrived at Company E Feb. 3, and at 5 p.m. on Feb. 4, Fulton signed out of his unit on leave, traveling to Germany. He was called back to Fort Knox early by Lt. Col. Chester Dymek, the 1/81 Armor Battalion commander, to talk with Criminal Investigation Division agents who were investigating the abuse charges.

Dymek said Fulton expressed "disbelief" when he was told about the investigation.

"He did say one thing, that he'd do anything to protect his drill sergeants," Dymek said.

Day Zero chaos

One of the most contentious pieces of evidence was a videotape introduced by defense counsel Capt. Paul Streetman, Fulton's Army-appointed attorney.

The video, shot with a hand-held personal camera, shows trainees arriving at Company E in a bus and what was referred to in testimony as a "shark attack" by the company's drill sergeants.

In the shaky video, trainees are rushed into formation outside the company barracks as drill sergeants scream at them, sometimes with two or more NCOs only inches from a trainee's face. Witnesses said that the "shark attack" went on for about an hour before the trainees were moved inside the barracks.

Fulton said the intense atmosphere was part of the program for basic training.

"You create an environment of stress," he said. "It's to develop and build cohesion in the unit... There's actually structure and reasoning to what we do."

Sgt. 1st Class Paul Holley, a senior drill sergeant with Co. E, said that he left the "shark attack" before it was over.

"In my eyes, it was not the way I would have conducted an initial pickup," he said. "The whole nature of the situation wasn't even right. There was too much chaos and no plan... I didn't want to be a part of it."

Fulton testified that he had not witnessed any instances of abuse during the trainees' Feb. 3 arrival at his company, and denied being involved in any abuse himself.

"It was a pretty standard pickup," he said. "I actually rode in the bus with the (trainees on their way to the company from the Reception Station) and gave them my in-brief... it's a calm before the storm."

The video showed trainees grabbing their Army-issue duffle bags and personal gear in preparation for heading into the barracks for the shakedown.

One recruit testified that Fulton had been holding the door on the second floor landing as the trainees entered. Fulton said he followed the trainees, entering the second floor hallway only after they had all gone in themselves.

In the video, however, Fulton does not appear at the door.

During the shakedown, Fulton said, a drill sergeant approached him and handed him an inhaler, saying, "Sir, we have a problem."

Medication without an accompanying prescription is considered contraband in basic training.

Fulton said he took the inhaler back to the room of a trainee, and asked the trainee if he had any other contraband.

The trainee produced "four or five" other medications, as well as a pamphlet on "How to spot tuberculosis," Fulton said.

Fulton said he told the drill sergeants to "immediately cease" training the recruit until his medical records could be reviewed.

However, the prosecution also cited the video, saying that it clearly showed abuse of trainees.

Krill asked an instructor with the Cadre Training Course, a required six-day class for all 1st ATB training cadre, about what could be considered "appropriate" touching of trainees by instructors.

"Would hitting a trainee in the chest be appropriate physical contact?" the prosecutor asked.

"No, sir," the instructor replied.

"Would slamming a Soldier into a wall locker?"

"No, sir."

"How about choking a trainee?"

"No, sir."

Berlin and Krill argued that behavior of that type had indeed occured in Company E under Fulton's watch. According to Training and Doctrine Command Regulation 350-6, drill sergeants are only authorized to touch Soldiers in training to prevent a safety violation, in a medical emergency, or to correct a uniform deficiency.

Trainees testified that they were slammed into wall lockers, kicked, and struck during the indoor portion of the "shark attack," and that the abuse continued the next day.

"It defies reason to think that on 3 February, Captain Fulton was on the second floor while all this was going on, and just missed it," Krill said during the prosecution's closing arguments.

Contradictory testimony

Streetman drew attention to the fact that statements made by Company E Soldiers immediately after the alleged incidents contradicted testimony they gave during the court-martial, and that in the five months that had elapsed since the abuse, their recollection of events may have been tainted.

"This case turns on perception," he said in his opening statement. "The chaos of that (first) day... hampered their ability to perceive correctly."

Streetman asked the trainees how they felt when they learned about the result of U.S. vs. Price, the first of four special courts-martial held in connection with the alleged abuse. The Soldiers testified that some members of the platoon had been upset over what they felt was a relatively "light" sentence received by Price -- reduction in rank from sergeant first class to staff sergeant, and no confinement.

"Their perception today is tainted by their bias -- perhaps even motive to fabricate," he said.

One trainee said he'd been present during abuse that he said Fulton witnessed, and testified that he recognized Fulton that day, Feb. 4, because he saw Fulton clad in a physical training uniform, wearing a reflective vest with "CPT FULTON" written on the chest portion of the vest.

But Fulton, who has a physical profile due to an injury he suffered while deployed in Iraq, said he rarely ever wore his PT uniform, and was on that day dressed in Class A uniform in preparation for his scheduled commander's briefing to the new Company E trainees.

Fulton said he did have a reflective vest matching the Soldier's description, but that it was "probably somewhere in Bowling Green, Kentucky."

Master Sgt. Todd Brown, the Company E first sergeant at the time who had been cleared of wrongdoing by the investigation, corroborated Fulton's statement about his uniform.

One trainee, who was eventually discharged from the Army for medical reasons, changed his testimony after seeing the video.

According to testimony, after the Price trial, Company E trainees found themselves under increased pressure from peers and cadre. Their platoon was reviled by other Soldiers in the battalion, who referred to the platoon by derisive names, according to witnesses.

In his closing argument, Streetman said that gave the trainees reason for bias in their testimony.

"Over five months, (they developed) a desire to band together against those who they perceived to have wronged them," he said. "Their recollection is now seen through the prism of being called the 'Pout-laws' and the 'Special Ed' platoon."


After Anderson returned with the verdict, Streetman called several witnesses to testify to Fulton's character during the pre-sentencing phase.

Among them was the captain's father, Robert Fulton, a retired Army major and Vietnam War veteran who served for more than 20 years.

Robert Fulton said his son should remain in the military.

"He was born to be in the Army," Robert Fulton said, "just like I was. It means everything to him."

Krill and Berlin called several Company E trainees to the stand to testify.

Berlin asked one Soldier how Fulton's behavior had affected his view of the Army.

"Officers are, in my opinion, supposed to take responsibility for what happens under them," the Soldier said. "With what happened in Echo Company... I didn't see that happen."

Fulton made an unsworn statement after the defense and prosecution had rested.

"I love Soldiers," he said. "I love being a Soldier. There's no doubt about that. I've put my heart into everything I've done.

"Perhaps my experiences in the Army have jaded my perspective on what abuse is. To me, the greatest abuse is to see untrained Soldiers coming home from far away countries in body bags.

"But the ends did not justify the means," he went on. "I'd like to apologize to all my Soldiers for not being the leader they deserve."

Prosecutors recommended a sentence of three months of confinement and dismissal from the Army.

"(Fulton) placed loyalty to his drill sergeants above (his) mission," Krill said, "which was training the Soldiers of Echo Company... He showed them that taking an oath to be honest was meaningless.

"All Captain Fulton had to say was 'Stop,'" Krill said. "(He) needs to be shown that dereliction of duty by an officer in the United States Army cannot and will not be tolerated."

Anderson deliberated for almost an hour before returning to the courtroom with a sentence.

"No one should envy me the task of having to fashion a sentence here," he said before delivering his decision.

Under Article 13, Fulton received 45 days credit against his six-month sentence. Streetman will represent him when the court's decision is reviewed by the court-martial convening authority.

Fulton was the fourth member of Company E to be tried in connection with subordinate maltreatment. Staff Sgt. Brian Duncan's court-martial has been rescheduled for Aug. 18.


UPDATE: Open Post at the Mudville Gazette.