Did the Army do enough to prevent soldier’s death? (2007)

Tina PriestPfc. Tina Priest of Smithville died in Iraq on March 1, 2006 and her family is worried that the Army botched its care for her after a rape claim that was followed by her apparent suicide.

Investigations did not find sufficient evidence to continue the rape inquiry, but the family, skeptical of what it sees as holes in the Army’s information, is waiting for a final review by the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command.

Family members also say Army officials told them that the investigation was concluded in September, but their requests for the final report are being denied. A recent article in the Hartford Courant newspaper citing that final report has heightened the Priests’ anger.

“I need some closure,” said Joy Priest, Tina Priest’s mother. “I want to know. Why can a newspaper get a copy of that report and we can’t?”

An investigation conducted in Iraq by Fort Hood’s 4th Infantry Division, in which Priest served, was conducted after her death, and its findings — which the family was given — are an accurate portrayal of events, said Lt. Col. Steve Stover, a spokesman for the division. He said the Criminal Investigation Command report will be the last one issued, “and we do still owe that to the family.”

The Fort Hood investigation found that Priest accused a fellow soldier of raping her Feb. 15. Army documents state that she may have been romantically involved with him.

She was discovered dead in her room March 1, and investigators concluded that she shot herself in the upper chest with an M-16 rifle. Rape charges against the soldier she accused were dropped a few weeks after her death.

“There exists only PFC Priest’s uncorroborated statement” as evidence of the rape charge, according to one document, “Presentation of Collateral Investigation Results to the Family of PFC Tina M. Priest.” “Unfortunately, due to the death of PFC Priest on 1 March 2006, many questions are left unanswered.”

But the reports and sworn statements in the family’s possession have them questioning the Army’s ability to investigate the case. Freedom of information requests for Priest’s records filed by the American-Statesman with Army Public Affairshave been rejected; concern for the family’s privacy was cited.

According to the reports given to the family, a chaplain counseling Priest warned his superiors that she was exhibiting suicidal tendencies.

At the very least, Joy Priest said, the Army does not appear to have adequately cared for her daughter.

“My first question is, ‘Why was she not moved from the base?’ ” Joy Priest said. ” ‘What are you doing to protect her?’ ”

According to the Army reports, Tina Priest brought rape allegations Feb. 16. She underwent two physical examinations, which were inconclusive on the rape charges. According to the documents, on Feb. 27, an Army clinical psychologist found that Priest “is stable with no risk management issues” and prescribed 48 hours of quarters “due to exhaustion.”

But the 4th Infantry Division report states that a chaplain observed Priest exhibiting potentially suicidal behavior after Feb. 16. A toxicology report accompanying an autopsy report also found traces of antidepressants.

“It is believed that PFC Priest killed herself due to an inability to cope with the emotional, physical, and mental stress of the alleged sexual assault and ensuing investigation,” a summary of the investigation states.

Joy Priest, who said she talked and e-mailed with her daughter several times after the rape allegation, said Tina did not seem suicidal and “was more mad than anything.”

“She was raped,” Joy Priest said. “I gave my daughter to the Army for this country, and they let us down.”

Stover said that he could not speak specifically to Priest’s case but that the decision of whether to move a soldier who alleges sexual assault is left up to the commanding officer.

The soldier she accused of rape pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of being in the quarters of a soldier of the opposite sex, according to the documents.

The Priests’ documents show that an initial investigation concluded:

  • Tina Priest’s roommate moved out after the rape allegations, and she was alone in her room for two days before she died.
  • Fellow soldiers failed to inform their superiors quickly enough of Priest’s suicidal thoughts.
  • The chaplain counseling Priest did not warn Priests’ immediate superiors strongly enough of her state of mind, but the superiors should have acted anyway.
  • A superior ordered Priest’s ammunition taken from her but not her weapon.

The reports obtained by the Priests state that steps to prevent more suicides have been implemented by the Army.

Marty Toohey, American Statesmen
mtoohey@statesman.com; 445-3673

Original source: http://ssristories.org/soldier-woman-in-iraq-kills-self/

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