Report Says General 'Hampered' Air Force Academy Football Probe
The Pentagon's inspector general found that a former Air Force Academy boss hindered an investigation into athlete misconduct by shielding football coach Troy Calhoun from questioning, but determined that the issue didn't rise to the level of "impeding the investigation."
While critical of former superintendent Lt. Gen. Mike Gould, the 32-page report obtained by The Gazette on Friday is silent on the school's cadet informant program and cleared the academy on allegations of special treatment for a football player suspected of drug use and an officer's interference in a sexual assault case.
The report was posted on the Defense Department Inspector General's website Friday morning, but was later removed without explanation. "This report has been temporarily removed and will be uploaded as soon as possible," the website said.
The report is critical of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, an independent agency that probes misconduct across the service. OSI agents at the academy, the report says, didn't document allegations of command interference in investigations and didn't insist on quizzing Calhoun.
"Instead, through a series of missteps and miscommunications between the AFOSI field units and AFOSI headquarters, AFOSI ultimately made the decision, within its authority, not to conduct the interview of the coach," the report said. "Furthermore, we determined that AFOSI special agents and leadership did not document in the investigative case files their communications about the proposed interview or the reason they did not interview the USAFA head football coach."
In interviews with investigators Gould denied that he hampered OSI efforts.
"I, in no way, did anything to impede their investigation, or to slow it down, or anything else," Gould said, according to the report. "I don't know what else to tell you."
The finding that Gould hampered, but didn't impede, the investigation essentially clears him of regulatory violations.
The report, initiated after a 2014 Gazette investigation, reviews one of the darkest chapters in academy sports history.
At parties dating to 2010 cadets, including a core group of football players, smoked synthetic marijuana, drank themselves sick and may have used date-rape drugs to incapacitate women for sexual assault, documents obtained by The Gazette showed.
The culture was so wild that academy leaders canceled a planned 2012 sting operation out of concern that undercover agents and confidential informants at a party wouldn't be enough to protect women from rape.
Pentagon investigators found that at the height of investigation into that misconduct, now-retired Lt. Gen. Gould blocked investigators who wanted to question Calhoun, an academy graduate who has led the Falcons to bowl games in eight of his nine seasons at the helm.
"We did determine that he denied an AFOSI special agent's request to interview the USAFA head football coach, an interview we determined to be a logical investigative step," the report said.
Athletic director Hans Mueh has since retired and been replaced by former Army officer Jim Knowlton. The academy has said the school has changed how it trains athletes and launched a campaign to stamp out misconduct in the ranks.
"It is important to highlight the report concluded that there is no systemic problem here; and therefore did not make any recommendations for the academy," the academy's current superintendent, Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, wrote in a letter to investigators.
"While we prefer to look forward and cannot control things that happened in the past, we acknowledge the subculture of cadet behavior described was inconsistent with the culture of commitment and climate of respect we work hard to uphold here," she wrote.
While clearing Air Force Academy leaders apart from Gould, the report ripped OSI agents at the school on several fronts.
The Office of Special Investigations is an agency that exists outside the influence of local commanders and is empowered to work independently. The report found that OSI was overly deferential to Gould, complying with his bar on interviewing coaches when they could have ignored the general.
"Our evaluation found a lack of documentation at all levels within AFOSI regarding the decision not to interview the football coach and the communications pertaining to the decision," the report said. The inspector general also reviewed OSI handling of 56 drug and sexual assault cases -- including 12 involving Falcons football players -- initiated between 2011 and 2012.
"We determined that 32 had no deficiencies and 20 had minor deficiencies," the report said. "Four drug investigations had significant deficiencies."
Those investigations were tied to "Operation Gridiron" -- a string of probes that started with tips from a cadet informant, Eric Thomas. Thomas was kicked out of the academy shortly before his planned graduation for demerits -- minor disciplinary infractions.
Thomas has maintained that he picked up the demerits while complying with orders from OSI, but the agency refused to defend him at a disenrollment hearing.
This week, the Air Force turned back Thomas' final appeal to be reinstated.
"Insufficient relevant evidence has been presented to demonstrate the existence of an error or injustice." the Air Force Board for the Correction of Military Records found.
Thomas' attorney Skip Morgan, a 1972 Air Force Academy graduate, said he wasn't surprised.
"This whole thing has been a cover-up," he said.
The inspector general found that OSI botched an investigation into Thomas' most sensational claim about a 2011 party in Manitou Springs involving several members of the football team.
"The girls' drink, or Captain Morgan with the blue lid, was only for girls to drink," Ohomas told investigators in a written statement obtained by The Gazette. The blue-capped bottle, he explained, was laced with "roofies," a street term for flunitrazepam, a powerful sedative known as a date-rape drug.
Thomas told investigators that "four or five females did not recall what occurred the following day after the party."
In one bedroom during the party, "multiple male cadets had sexual intercourse with other unknown females," Thomas alleged.
The inspector general found that OSI didn't properly investigate the claim.
"Specifically, the victims alleged they ingested, without their consent, a drug that rendered them unable to recall the events of the evening," the report found. "However, AFOSI special agents did not go to the crime scene (the party location) to search for evidence or collect evidence from the victims."
Morgan said the findings show the Air Force is reluctant to take on the football team and willing to sacrifice Thomas' career to keep the misconduct quiet.
"They're not willing to look any deeper," he said.
On Friday, the academy sent The Gazette the same statement it sent to investigators in response to the report.
"Recognition of this prior cadet misconduct caused us to refocus and enhance our culture and climate," the statement said. "We have taken a number of actions to ingrain a culture consistent with our Air Force core values."
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