Army Special Forces colonel found not guilty of sexual assault

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An Army Special Forces colonel who faced five sexual assault charges was acquitted Thursday following a court-martial at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

Col. Kevin Russell’s attorney Michael Waddington said the jury deliberated for just over an hour before rendering the verdict.

“We are pleased with the verdict,” Waddington said in an email to Army Times. “Colonel Russell is innocent. He had faith in the system. He had faith in his attorneys. In the end, the truth came out.”

According to the Fayetteville Observer, a woman who was then an Air Force captain accused Russell of raping her on June 5, 2015. The woman, who testified during the court-martial, claimed the two started a sexual relationship in April 2015 while they both were deployed to Pakistan.

The following month, after the married Russell headed to Jordan on a temporary assignment, the woman started a sexual relationship with Russell’s housemate, a married captain. Even though the woman continued to keep in contact with Russell while he was in Jordan, she said she tried to dodge seeing him once he returned to Pakistan later that month.

She claimed this was because of Russell’s rank, his marital status and her desire to conceal her relationship with his housemate.

“After sex with him, I lost interest,” the woman testified, according to the report in the Observer. “I didn’t enjoy our sexual interaction. … I thought he was a nice guy,”

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Even so, she said she “didn’t have the courage to cut things off” with Russell, who later learned of her relationship with his housemate, the captain. All three eventually discussed the matter, she said, and the captain later told her that he and Russell had agreed to independently “pursue her,” the Observer reported.

Afterwards, she testified that she attempted to avoid Russell, but accepted an invitation to go to dinner with him on June 5, 2015, so she wouldn’t offend him. During dinner, she said she only had two sips of wine.

Although the woman testified she was usually capable of downing approximately two bottles of champagne, or five to six alcoholic beverages in a night, and still remember an evening, she doesn’t remember portions of June 5 despite consuming only two alcoholic beverages the entire night. As a result, she believes she was drugged after she, Russell and the captain met up with a friend at a place called the French Club.

Things “became blurred” after Russell handed her a drink on the dance floor, she said.

“I remember waking up to Col. Russell having sex with me,” she said.

She claimed she exited Russell’s room and headed straight for the captain’s room. The next morning, she said she had consensual sex with the captain. She also asserted she had a “lost sense of self” following the events on June 5, and struggled with suicidal thoughts afterwards.

The woman filed a restricted sexual assault report in January or February 2016, but removed the restriction in April 2019, prompting an official investigation, she said.

A female lieutenant colonel, who also was in Pakistan during 2015, submitted a statement claiming the woman disclosed she had been sexually assaulted between October 2015 and the end of the year.

But Russell, who had a different recollection of the events on June 5, denied drugging the woman or raping her, the Observer reported. Russell testified that although he and several others went to the French Club, the woman did not appear drunk, nor did she appear drunk when they and the captain went back to the men’s home, he said.

Although the three went to separate bedrooms, Russell claimed the woman later joined him in his room, initiated foreplay, and undressed herself before they slept together. Russell again said the woman did not appear drunk during the incident.

After they had sex, the woman said she was going to the captain’s room — a statement Russell said he found odd at the time. However, nothing seemed amiss the next day when he saw the captain, and the woman made no mention of a sexual assault in subsequent interactions shortly thereafter, he testified.

Both Russell and the woman confirmed they had sex on three separate occasions after June 5, before Russell returned to the U.S. — including the day in July when Russell headed to the airport to leave Pakistan, the Observer reported. The woman acknowledged all three of these episodes were consensual.

Russell testified the woman remained in contact with him even after he returned to the U.S., but said he was not informed of any sexual assault allegations until 2017.

After serving in the Army for 28 years, Russell plans to retire, said Waddington, his attorney. Russell is assigned to U.S Army Special Operations Command, and previously served with U.S. Southern Command’s Joint Task Force-Bravo and as a special operations liaison to U.S. Central Command.

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