Peterson Airman Jailed on Rape Accusation Ahead of May Court-Martial

A Peterson Air Force Base airman faces trial next month in the alleged October rape of a woman on the base, documents obtained by The Gazette show.

Airman 1st Class Matthew L. Copeland is also charged with groping, biting and choking the woman on several occasions between July and October last year. He was being held in the Teller County jail Tuesday ahead of a court-martial set for May 23.

"Sexual assault is a crime that violates basic human dignity and the standards of decency that we are sworn to uphold and protect," Peterson said in a Tuesday statement. "When incidents of sexual harassment or assault are reported, we are committed to ensuring we conduct thorough and professional investigations, take appropriate action based on the investigation, provide compassionate care, and protect the rights and privacy of affected individuals."

In addition to the assault and rape counts, prosecutors say Copeland failed to obey an order to stay away from the woman in the case and threatened to kill her if she told officials about his actions.

Charges were filed against Copeland in November after the woman came forward.

The 24-year-old airman worked at Peterson as a customer service apprentice in Peterson's 21st Force Support Squadron. That unit, part of the 21st Space Wing, provides recreation for airmen and oversees family programs at the base.

Copeland joined the Air Force in July 2013.

In the October incident, prosecutors say, Copeland held the woman down and forced her to have oral sex.

Locking Copeland up before his trial is a rare move for the Air Force, which regularly leaves defendants on duty while they await courts-martial. Confinement without bail is allowed under military law only in extreme circumstances, including a likelihood the defendant would commit more crimes.

Copeland is held in Teller County under a military contract. Local bases lack their own lockups.

At his court-martial, Copeland would face a maximum penalty of life behind bars if convicted.

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