Fear Thy Neighbor Premiered ‘Mistress of Death’ on Investigation Discovery: Linda Cowan Convinced Son Vinson Thomas-Ward Cowan to Kill Woman Next Door (July 7, 2018)

ID Go: Two women living next to each other since childhood descend into bitter conflict when the ex husband of one starts seeing the other. Add property issues to this toxic mix and the result is an act of shocking violence that engulfs all. -Mistress of Death, Fear Thy Neighbor (Investigation Discovery: S5, E6)

On December 18, 2009, Army veteran Vinson Thomas-Ward Cowan shot at and injured his neighbor Christie Jackson in Burnet, Texas. Christie Jackson and Vinson’s mother, Linda Cowan, were engaged in a bitter three month feud between neighbors after Christie’s estranged husband Rudy started dating Linda. What started out as a disagreement between neighbors ended in someone getting shot. It is believed that Linda Cowan enlisted the help of her son Vinson to shoot and kill Christie Jackson and he obliged because he was protective of his mother. Vinson followed through and indeed shot Christie in the head through the window of her own home. Miraculously, despite the severe head wound, Christie lived, but will forever be affected by the ordeal. On the night in question, Christie was sleeping with both her daughters who also are forever changed by the experience.

One of Vinson’s friends, Thomas Pierson, who was aware of the plan to shoot Christie and be a look-out that night, informed the police of Linda and Vinson’s plans to shoot Christie in retaliation for all the trouble she caused her. The bottom line was Linda wanted Christie out of the picture. Linda Cowan was jealous that Rudy continued to see Christie and their children and angry because she assumed Christie called the City of Burnet to complain about her septic issues. Linda wanted revenge and she wanted to date Rudy despite his intentions to continue seeing Christie. In 2013, Linda Cowan was sentenced to fifteen years in prison for second-degree felony of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. And Vinson Thomas-Ward plead guilty to ten years in prison for second-degree felony of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Christie’s mother sold the family home in Burnet.

Editor’s note: With a cable subscription, you can download the free ID Go app and watch all of the Investigation Discovery programming at your convenience. And for those who do not have cable, you can watch “unlocked” episodes on the ID Go app including the latest premieres. Download the ID Go app and binge away. For those who prefer commercial free programming during your binge session, Prime Video has an ID channel: ‘True Crime Files by Investigation Discovery” available for $2.99 a month. It’s a compilation of older seasons but totally worth the cost if you are a true crime addict.

Related Links:
Burnet woman gets 15 years for her role in 2009 shooting (2013)
Burnet County man gets 10 years for 2009 shooting of woman (2013)
Linda Sue Cowan, Appellant v. The State of Texas, Appellee (2015)
Mistress of Death | Fear Thy Neighbor | Investigation Discovery (S5, E6)

Navy Sailor Brandon Caserta Died by Suicide at Naval Station Norfolk; Family Pushing for Suicide Prevention Legislation ‘The Brandon Act’ Focusing on Hazing & Bullying (June 25, 2018)

Brandon Caserta Navy.jpg

AEAN Brandon Caserta, U.S. Navy (photo courtesy of the Caserta family)

Navy AEAN Brandon Caserta was stationed with the Helicopter Combat Sea Squadron 28 (HSC-28) at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia when he died by suicide on June 25, 2018. While Brandon’s parents were on the phone with Navy leadership at the Squadron, Brandon walked out on the flight line, apologized to the plane captain (who is in-charge of the flight line), and hurled himself into a helicopter rotor, dying instantly. AEAN Caserta had a brief career with the Navy and it didn’t turn out the way he had hoped. He had failed Special Warfare Training and was transferred into a new career field as a result. And then unexpectedly Brandon broke his collar-bone in a bicycle accident, which also negatively impacted his Navy career. At the moment Brandon Caserta made his final walk out to the flight line, his father Patrick Caserta was on the phone with the command expressing concern for his son’s welfare. Patrick was making plans to fly out to Naval Station Norfolk to explore his son’s legal options.

Desperate for answers, the Casertas reached out to Brandon’s chain of command and friends but eventually everyone stopped responding. The Casertas were told by many friends in Brandon’s command that leadership ordered a cessation of communications. Before the silence, Brandon’s friends shared that they thought he appeared to be suffering from depression, feelings of worthlessness, and anger, hence the reason he left a note asking the Navy be held accountable. As a result of the information gleaned from the note and those who knew Brandon, the HSC-28 conducted an investigation of itself; basically the fox guarding the henhouse. Although they knew months in advance of the problems, the report did note that Brandon’s supervisor had a history of berating and belittling those who worked for him. As a matter of fact, this supervisor could have been court-martialed under UCMJ Article 93, Cruelty and Maltreatment, but he wasn’t. Instead, Military.com reports he received no punishment and was transferred with a “declining evaluation” (and this was only after it was heard and reported that he made “derogatory and inflammatory comments concerning the deceased”).

“I want to see as many people fired, kicked out or, at the very least, lose rank.” -Brandon Caserta, U.S. Navy

According to Military.com, the Navy’s suicide rate in 2018 was the highest it’s ever been. And it was reported that a post-mortem analyses of suicides in the military usually showed the victim “faced major issues like financial problems, relationship problems, medical issues, and mental health conditions.” The military reporter reached out to Dave Matsuda, an anthropologist at California State University-East Bay, who researched and studied a suicide cluster among soldiers in Iraq in 2010. Matsuda’s research found some non-commissioned officers (NCOs) and officers in the chain of command made their subordinates’ lives a “living hell.” Matsuda also added that although the “bad leaders weren’t fully responsible for the suicides, they helped push the soldiers over the edge.” But in a system where the Navy is investigating the Navy, we have learned that the Chain of Command isn’t going to admit there is a problem. They have a history of blaming the victim and/or scapegoating an enlisted NCO or lower ranking military officer.

Brandon’s father, Patrick Caserta, a retired U.S. Navy sailor himself, asserts the Command was “so hostile, corruptive and unethical,” that they tormented Brandon and drove him past the brink of despair. Patrick and Teri Caserta wholeheartedly believe the command murdered their son. Patrick reminded us that the military talks about trauma, exposure to war, and mental health, but they don’t talk about harassment and bullying. He believes military leadership do not want to admit harassment, bullying, and retaliation happen or admit they are at fault. In the days and weeks that followed their son’s death, Patrick and Teri also learned from those who worked with Brandon that they were all dealing with a high operational tempo and manpower shortfalls. Brandon’s co-workers believed “personal issues were not a high priority and Brandon’s death could have been prevented.” And an anonymous message sent to the squadron commander on June 18, 2018 revealed the abuse was ongoing before Brandon died.

According to the message, Brandon’s supervisor called subordinates his “bitches,” referred to the chiefs as “douchebags” and “dumbasses” behind their backs, and “treated workers worse than garbage” and “like dogs.” –Military.com (June 8, 2019)

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Military.com reported that Brandon Caserta’s death was one of 68 Navy suicides in 2018. They also reported the rise in military suicides appears to mirror an increase in suicides among the general U.S. population. Suicide experts are struggling to understand why so many are dying by suicide. Some factors for suicide risk, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), include “spending time in prison or jail, having a mental health disorder or a substance abuse problem, experiencing family violence, a history of suicide, and having guns in the home.” Brandon’s family believes their son’s suicide was a direct result of toxic leadership, one superior who harassed and bullied Brandon, pushing him over the edge. According to Army Doctrine Publication 6-22, a toxic leader “operates with an inflated sense of self-worth and from acute self-interest,” consistently using “dysfunctional behaviors to deceive, intimidate, coerce, or unfairly punish others to get what they want for themselves.” Although it appears there are multiple variables that impact when a service member chooses to die by suicide, the experts need to find out the why so we can save our service member’s lives. What is happening in their environment that makes them feel like suicide is the only way out?

The directive states, toxic leaders exhibit a combination of “self centered attitudes, motivations, and behaviors that have adverse effects on subordinates, the organization, and mission performance.” –Military.com (June 8, 2019)

Military.com reported that one of Brandon’s co-workers helped shed some insight into the toxic climate at the Navy’s HSC-28 squadron. He accused leadership of deploying personnel in retaliation for speaking up and not doing as they are told. This particular individual requested that he remain at the squadron when his wife got sick because he needed to support her and their two girls. But his leadership was going to deploy him with a detachment anyways. So he filed an Inspector General complaint and thankfully was transferred out of the squadron in a couple weeks. He believes Navy personnel have a “fear of retribution” because the command is resentful of the service members who can’t deploy. Brandon’s family experienced a form of retaliation as well. The unit held a memorial service for Brandon four days after he died but Patrick and Teri said they were not invited by anyone in the HSC-28 command. Patrick Caserta believes the family was excluded out of sheer pettiness; leadership wanted to continue to conceal and coverup what truly happened. Regardless of the reason, it was a violation of Navy policy.

“Navy policy states that the command should provide round-trip travel and allowances to family members to attend a command memorial service.” –Military.com (June 8, 2019)

On May 31, 2019, after the command learned that Military.com had made phone calls regarding the Casertas’ allegations, Navy personnel indicated there was a “culture of fear” at the squadron. The Casertas are so angry and distraught that communications have stopped that they offered a $25,000 reward to anyone who came forward with information that “lead to successful prosecution of individuals in their son’s chain of command.” They have also met with the congressional staff of at least a dozen senators and representatives, including Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) to discuss “the treatment they and Brandon received, request an independent investigation, and promote efforts to prevent suicide linked to toxic leadership.” They also would like to see the Navy implement Brandon Caserta’s request in his suicide note regarding the re-rate process: “sailors who don’t complete the training for the rate they initially sought should be able to select any other training they qualify for with their Armed Services Vocational Battery (ASVAB) test results.”

Anthropologist Dave Matsuda told Military.com that to truly address the problem of suicide in the armed forces, “all the services need to consider ‘toxic leadership’ when analyzing the deaths of each individual.” If we understand the why, we can prevent suicide. Matsuda also believes operational leaders should not rely on “the boot camp strategy of breaking people down to build them back up.” Matsuda concluded with the assertion that indeed a toxic command climate can trigger suicidal behavior. One year later, Patrick and Teri Caserta are determined to get justice for their only son, because they believe this tragedy could’ve been prevented. The pair also report that Congress is drafting “The Brandon Act,” which is “federal legislation aimed at ending military suicides, holding commanders accountable, and halting the bullying and hazing that occurs within military ranks.” Please contact both the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) members and the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) members and your Senators and Representative to ask that they too support our troops by supporting The Brandon Act. Our service members deserve a chance at a beautiful life post military.

“The Brandon Act” is designed to be a safe word that men and women in our Armed Forces can use if they are subjects of any kind of abuse whether it’s physical, emotional or mentally. Abuse comes in many, many forms to include bullying, hazing, threats, sexual, abusive leadership, and any kind of mental and emotional abuse. These are just a few abusive tactics that can be done to someone. “The Brandon Act” protects those who come forward asking for help. It is designed for these men and women to come forward and get the help they need and if the abuse merits it, the sailor or troop will have a right to ask to be reassigned to another command or unit without any retaliation whatsoever from anyone in their current command or their next assignment. Our hope is to bring suicides to an end and by using this “Act” will hopefully allow them the courage to get help when they need it and get them healed and back on the right path. This “Act” is in front of Congress right now and hopefully very soon, they will approve and pass it once it’s completely written. Thank you for reading. –Justice for Brandon Caserta on Facebook (June 20, 2019) #TheBrandonAct

Sources: Patrick Caserta (Brandon’s father), Patricia Kime, Military.com, and related links

In the News:

As Terri Caserta entered her son’s bedroom in their Peoria home, she broke down. It’s an emotion that Terri and her husband Patrick Caserta will always carry with them. Their son Brandon was in the United States Navy from 2015 to 2018. However, at just 21, Brandon would take his own life. -ABC 15 Arizona (June 14, 2019)

Related Links:
Obituary: Brandon Patrick Caserta (June 25, 2018)
3rd Cowpens CO Fired Since 2010; CMC Relieved (2014)
Army Takes On Its Own Toxic Leaders (2014)
‘I now hate my ship’: Surveys reveal disastrous morale on cruiser Shiloh (2017)
Navy: Failures of Leaders, Watchstanders Led to Deadly Ship Collisions (2017)
Former MCPON Bawled Out Staff, Made Sailors Fetch Coffee: Investigation
His Suicide Note Was a Message to the Navy. The Way He Died Was the Exclamation Point
When Driven to Suicide, at a Minimum it is Manslaughter! – The Navy’s Incessant Harassment of Brandon Caserta Ultimately Drove Him to Suicide – People Were Promoted, Instead of Held Accountable
Suicides Are Still On The Rise In The Military — Is That Really a Surprise? Spoiler: The Answer Is ‘No.’
Peoria family hopes for change in military culture after son takes his own life
Family hopes for change in military culture after son takes his own life
Family hopes for change in military culture after son takes his own life
Peoria family hopes for change in military culture after son takes his own life (YouTube)
Army Staff Sgt. Paul Norris Fatally Shot Army Spc. Kamisha Block in Iraq After She Ended a Forbidden Relationship, Then Ended His Own Life (August 16, 2007)
Camp Lejeune Marine Maria Lauterbach & Unborn Child Murdered, Remains Discovered in Fellow Marine’s Backyard; Cesar Laurean Sentenced to Life in Prison, No Parole (December 15, 2007)
Military Rape Survivor Army Sgt. Amanda Sheldon Died by Suicide After Suffering With Depression; Family Hopes Her Death May Spark Change (October 7, 2010)
Lauterbach Case Prompts Policy Reforms for Victims of Crime in the Military (December 25, 2011)
Army Directive 2011-19: Expedited Transfer or Reassignment Procedures for Victims of Sexual Assault (3 Oct 11)
Military Policy and Legislation Considerations for the Investigations of Non Combat Death, Homicide, and Suicide of US Service Members (2016)
Army Soldiers at Fort Hood in Texas Are Dying at Alarming Rates Stateside (2017)
Are More Male’s Victims of Violent Crime in the United States Than Females? (2017)
September: U.S. Department of Defense Casualties Report from September 11, 2001 to Present (2017)
Sexual Assault in the Armed Forces, Transfer Policies Panel (2017)
48 Hours NCIS Premiered ‘Trail of Fire’ on CBS: Holley Wimunc, Domestic Violence, and the Holley Lynn James Act (June 26, 2018)
ProPublica: ‘Death and Valor on an American Warship Doomed by Its Own Navy’ (February 6, 2019)
Senate Armed Services Committee Members & House Armed Services Committee Members (June 21, 2019)
The Brandon Act | Justice for Brandon Caserta
Justice for Brandon Caserta | Facebook
Navy Failed Their Son | ABC 15 Arizona

How do we stop the retaliation from happening so victims of crimes in the military feel safe to report?

Even if you do go forward with a case and it’s adjudicated in your favor, it’s the retaliation that kicks our ass and de-rails our careers. Why is this happening? If you wonder why some who have been assaulted have severe PTSD, it’s the retaliation compounding the original trauma. And if you don’t report and try and soldier on, it catches up with you anyways in the form of behavioral issues and suicidal ideation. How do we stop the retaliation in the military from happening so victims of crimes feel safe to report?

Related Links:
Home Base Veteran Story: Jennifer & Lee Norris
Personal Story and Testimony of TSgt. Jennifer Norris, US Air Force Retired, Before the House Armed Services Committee in Washington DC (2013)
Military Policy and Legislation Considerations for the Investigations of Non Combat Death, Homicide, and Suicide of US Service Members
Massachusetts School of Law Interviews Veteran Jennifer Norris About Violent Crime in the Military & Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
What Happens When a Rape is Reported in the Military?

A 2011 Documentary Gives You an Inside Look at Toxic Leadership in the US Army: On the Dark Side in Al Doura, Iraq


U.S. Army Ranger John Needham, who was awarded two purple hearts and three medals for heroism, wrote to military authorities in 2007 reporting war crimes that he witnessed being committed by his own command and fellow soldiers in Al Doura, Iraq. His charges were supported by atrocity photos which, in the public interest, are now released in this video. John paid a terrible price for his opposition to these acts. His story is tragic. –On the Dark Side in Al Doura

After watching the 2011 documentary ‘On the Dark Side in Al Doura’ which profiles the case of Army Private John Needham, one can clearly observe the similarities to ‘The Kill Team’ PBS documentary released in 2014. On the Dark Side in Al Doura interviewed Michael Needham, the father of John Needham, who was an Army whistleblower from Fort Carson, Colorado and reported witnessing war crimes and atrocities in Iraq; The Kill Team profiled Adam Winfield, an Army whistleblower from Fort Lewis, Washington who witnessed and tried to report the same war crimes and atrocities in Afghanistan. For the sake of preservation, both John Needham and Adam Winfield admitted feeling pressured to conform or risk their own lives if they didn’t. They both felt like they were being set up to die or participate in the war crimes. Both soldiers at times felt like suicide was their only way out because there was no safe place for them to report overseas nor could they escape the situation. If they made it out of the war zone alive, the return home didn’t fair well for them. The PBS documentary  ‘The Wounded Platoon’ released in 2010 reveals the impacts the wars overseas had on Fort Carson soldiers. After watching these three documentaries, it’s clear why our soldier’s combat experiences traumatized and changed some of them. They not only had to fight a credible threat on the battlefields but some were betrayed by the very team they depended on for their lives.

Michael Needham takes us through the series of events that occurred in the course of John’s short Army career. He shared how John was the fifth generation in the family to fight in a war. John volunteered to join the Army in the spring of 2006, went to Fort Benning, Georgia for training, and then got stationed at Fort Carson. John was an Army Ranger assigned to the 212th, 2nd Combat Team, 12th Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division. He was part of the infamous team known as the ‘Lethal Warriors’ which now appears to be disbanded. Part of his initiation into his new band of brothers was fighting other soldiers to determine where one fell in the pecking order. John held his own in the fights and was respected for his wins. According to John, the soldiers that didn’t fair so well in the fights were ‘smoked’ by leadership and peers, which ultimately forced them to leave, quit, or commit suicide. In October of 2006 John was deployed with his Fort Carson team to Al Doura, Iraq. His team was assigned to the Quarter Cav which was known for having some of the deadliest fights in the Iraq war.

John was a good soldier. He worked hard, saved lives in Iraq, and was awarded three medals for heroism and two Purple Hearts. John excelled as part of team, was brave, and his resilience was admirable. But during the course of John’s deployment, he witnessed war crimes and other atrocities committed by leadership and his fellow soldiers that affected his morale. John would also admit that initially he wasn’t quiet about it and when he did question superiors, he was told he didn’t have the right to question leadership. He didn’t dare report the war crimes via e-mail or telephone because he knew leadership could monitor everything. So for the sake of preservation and life’s sake, he did what he had to do to get by and stay alive. John would share that the Army was short of personnel so most of the soldiers got driven into the ground and deprived of sleep. After awhile John felt that he was forced into committing war atrocities that were illegal but feared if he didn’t do it, he would become a liability to the team and ultimately a casualty of his own people.

One night John was sent out on a mission with a Lieutenant (who did not commit war crimes yet remained silent). John thought this was unusual because they didn’t usually get sent out in pairs. They were ambushed by three shooters in the middle of the night who were determined to see them dead. When the shooting began, John pushed the Lieutenant to safety and kept the shooters at bay. He shot every round he had and when he was almost out of ammunition, he called the 212th for back-up on the radio but nobody answered him. Luckily another team was nearby who did answer him and was able to extract the soldiers from the situation and save their lives. It would be this incident that would break John’s spirit. He immediately suspected that he and the other soldier were sent on this mission to be killed. When he got back to the base, he began yelling “Why did you set us up?” And “If you want to kill me, kill me to my face!” But nobody acknowledged him so he went back to his tent where he decided that he would commit suicide. John was exhausted, irate, and he saw no way out. He didn’t want to live anymore. He felt that committing suicide was his only way out. John put a handgun to his head but just as he got ready to pull the trigger, his roommate dove and pushed the gun away from his head. The gun discharged and put a hole in the wall. Soldiers immediately began ascending upon the area. According to John, once leadership learned what happened, they held him down and beat him then locked him in captivity in a small room. The Battalion Commander was the one who kept John captive yet he didn’t press any formal charges.

John’s father Michael learned through John’s friends in Afghanistan that John was being held captive by the Battalion Commander. They were concerned about him. John’s family was already concerned about John’s earlier e-mails and posts on MySpace because it sounded like he had given up, which was not like him. With this information Michael Needham contacted Army commands, Fort Carson, Congressional leaders and the Army Inspector General (IG). He reports that the only office that took him seriously at the time was the IG. Michael was trying to save his son’s life. He told the IG that he didn’t want him to die. The IG’s office shared a list of rights for both John and Michael. And it was at this time Michael learned that he had third party rights and could intervene and act on John’s behalf. Michael was finally able to get in touch with the Battalion Commander only to learn that John was being treated like a criminal. The Battalion Commander informed Michael that John committed crimes and was being sent to prison in Kuwait. But Michael was able to intervene and get the Command to send him to medical instead. Medical determined that John was severely injured both physically and mentally. He had significant back injuries from the multiple explosions and blasts, shrapnel in his body, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Army medical in Iraq referred John to medical in Germany and from there he would be sent to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the states. But not before the Battalion Commander would put up one more roadblock. Instead, Michael Needham won this battle and John was flown to Germany.

Eventually, John was sent to Ward 54 which is the psychiatric ward at Walter Reed. Michael shared that John appeared to like the psychiatric help he was getting. A month into John’s stay at Walter Reed, he was informed that the Iraq Battalion Commander contacted the 212th Command in Colorado and requested that John be sent back to Fort Carson where he was facing criminal charges including unlawful discharge of a weapon. They were making him go and sent armed guards to accompany him back to Fort Carson. Michael Needham tried to intervene with the 212th at Fort Carson but they said they couldn’t do anything because they had orders from the Battalion Commander. John was sent back to Fort Carson and the harassment he endured in Iraq continued with the 212th in Colorado. John shared that they mentally tortured him, banged on his barracks door, stole his things, and isolated him. It was at this time Michael elicited the help of a veteran advocate Andrew Pogany who went to the command in Colorado and held these people personally accountable. Andrew helps soldiers in John’s situation because he understands how important it is to intervene. John could not get the kind of help that he needed at Fort Carson. Michael shared that the soldiers could see a professional once a week if they were suicidal and once a month if they were not. John’s father wanted him transferred to a Naval Medical Center in San Diego for intensive treatment and so he could be closer to home. Andrew helped make that happen.

Michael began to understand the impacts the war had on his son after John got back to California. John couldn’t handle driving above 35 mph, was suspicious of trash on the side of the road, and was easily startled by loud noises. He could not function in public and suffered with what is known as flashbacks. The Naval Medical Center in San Diego recommended that John get surgery on his back right away. They warned him that he could become paralyzed if he didn’t get the surgery. In the meantime Johns father spoke candidly with one of the Navy doctors about the treatment John received both in Iraq and at Fort Carson. He reiterated that he was concerned about his well being and asked him to help him find a way to prevent John from being sent back to Fort Carson, Colorado. Michael Needham feared that if John got sent back to Fort Carson that he would not return. This doctor agreed to help John. And Andrew Pogany recommended that John report the war crimes to the Army in an effort to protect John from being complicit and implicated in the future. John reported to the Army that he witnessed both leadership and peers killing innocent Iraqi civilians during the October 2006 to October 2007 timeframe in and around Al Doura. It wasn’t long after John made the report that all the charges against him were dropped and Fort Carson gave the necessary approval to transfer him to Balboa Naval Command. John went in front of the medical board and was medically retired for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, and back injuries. He was discharged honorably from the Army. The Army investigated John’s claims but concluded that no war crimes were committed.

Michael and John won a lot of battles with the US Army but soon they would lose the war. Just days after John was discharged from the Army, he would be accused of beating his new girlfriend to death with his bare hands. John Needham was charged with the murder of Jacqwelyn Villagomez and jailed for ten months until his family raised enough money to get him out on bail. John was not given treatment while jailed so the family was motivated to get him out so he could get the treatment he needed. John did in fact follow through with getting treatment and he learned a lot about himself in the process. He spent some time on camera talking about how the combat stress and the betrayal from his team impacted him. He talked about how he didn’t realize the significant impacts from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury. John recognized how PTSD and TBI did in fact play a role in his fight or flight response mechanisms and that it may be because these conditions went untreated that he disocciated, snapped and beat his girlfriend to death. The two were in a heated argument after Jacqwelyn attacked one of John’s female friends. Both of them were volatile but unfortunately there were no witnesses to the event as John’s friend was outside the home calling the police to report Jacqwelyn. While John was awaiting trial, he went to Arizona to get another surgery and visit with his mom. On February 19, 2010 following treatment at the Department of Veterans Affairs, John would be found dead in his room from an overdose on painkillers. The cause of death at autopsy was considered undetermined and it is unclear if John accidentally overdosed or committed suicide.

Brig. Gen. Stephen Xenakis, M.D. (Ret.), a former top military psychiatrist who until recently was a consultant to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told us: “[TBI ]most sensitively affects executive functioning, that part of the brain that we use for judgment and we use for decision making … when we are in situations of intense emotion. So if a person is affected neurologically … they don’t have the controls that they had before. … They can’t think as clearly. …They are really vulnerable to just reacting, overreacting, particularly maybe doing something that they had done when they’d been in combat.” –The Wounded Platoon

As a parent, Michael Needham has questions for the Army. Why don’t they even recognize the problem? Why don’t they take care of the soldiers? And why did they leave his son John Needham behind? The documentary ‘On the Dark Side in Al Doura’ concludes with the reminder that since the Patriot Act was passed and Dick Cheney declared that we needed to go into the shadows, the definition of torture has been blurred. The Abu Ghraib prisoner torture and abuse scandal erupted under the Bush administration in 2003 but no war crimes have been investigated under President Barack Obama’s administration. If the rule of law has been lost, what do we have? Our military personnel have a responsibility to abide by the rules established by the Geneva Conventions. John Needham and Adam Winfield both reported witnessing innocent civilians murdered by their fellow leadership and peers in Iraq and Afghanistan. They both also shared the impact the crimes had on their mental health and morale. They wished they could have reported the crimes to someone who would have listened and understood that their lives were in danger. We can learn a lot from John Needham and Adam Winfield; they have experienced what it’s like to be a whistleblower in the US Army. They have clearly illustrated what toxic leadership in the Army looks like and how whistleblowers in the US military have nowhere to turn.

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Private John Needham, US Army

Related Links:
Dateline NBC Mystery: Private Needhams War
PBS Documentary: The Wounded Platoon
On the Dark Side in Al Doura: A Soldier in the Shadows
PBS Documentary: The Kill Team
The PBS Documentary ‘The Kill Team’ Nominated for an Emmy
Retired Army Pvt John Needham Beat his Girlfriend Jacqwelyn Villagomez to Death, Then Died of an Overdose on Painkillers Awaiting Murder Trial (2008)
Honoring Jacqwelyn Villagomez who Died at the Hands of Retired Army Private John Needham (2008)

Lt Col Teresa James Shares Experience with Sexual Assault & Reprisal at DoD IG Worldwide Hotline Outreach Conference

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The Department of Defense Inspector General’s office held a Worldwide Hotline Outreach Conference today July 28, 2016. One of their keynote speakers was Lt Col Teresa James, US Army, Retired, highlighted before on this site. The DoD IG twitter feed shared excerpts from her presentation summarized below. As she spoke, I tweeted with them to bring awareness to the specifics that Lt Col James noted and why they are so important. For a complete listing of the tweets by the DoD IG, please visit their Twitter feed here.

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The Army Stands Ready to Investigate Any Reports & Allegations of Sexual Assault Going Back to 2000 or Earlier

Claim: Sexual assault victims punished and lose health care benefits as a result.

HRW claims in their report that many service members lose their military career after being sexually assaulted & they have discharge papers that prevent them from getting health benefits.

DoD rejected the conclusions of the HRW report.

DoD states “they have many victims of sexual assault who receive honorable discharges from the military. There is a policy in place that offers assistance for anyone that reports a sexual assault. It is critical every survivor is treated with sensitivity that they deserve.”

Media states that victim was raped multiple times while serving her country and that they contacted the DoD and Army about her case, a case from 15 years ago.

She states that she was military intelligence, had lots of prescreening prior to enlistment. Promising path, requested by Chain of Command to apply to West Point. After first rape in military, her promising path turned to being retaliated against, and there were two more rapes for reporting the rape. It ended career with an illegal, bogus, discharge. Decade and a half later, still fighting to correct it.

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Fear Thy Neighbor Premiered ‘Burn Neighbor, Burn’ on Investigation Discovery: In Retaliation, Andrew Sindriewicz Burned Down Two Family Homes in New York (May 4, 2016)

ID Go: In peaceful Alden, New York, siblings who live in neighboring houses get into a conflict when their prodigal brother returns home. Soon, the family is at each other’s throats until their war finally comes to a shocking, fiery end. -Burn Neighbor, Burn, Fear Thy Neighbor (S3, E6)

Date: June 3, 2009
Victims: Helena & David Ward, Raymond Sindriewicz, and Holly & Dale Earsing
Offender: Andrew Sindriewicz, 49, Marine Corps veteran, disabled, caretaker for mother
Location: Alden, New York
Circumstances: Brothers Raymond and Andrew didn’t get along as they got older, Raymond moved in next-door with his sister Helena due to failing health, Andrew started blasting heavy metal music in the garage and Raymond asked him to turn down the music, Andrew would turn it down initially but after Raymond left, he turned it back up, Andrew harbored grudges, sister Helena described Andrew as menacing, Andrew had a dark side, Raymond collected furniture that he restored & sold at local flea markets, Andrew didn’t like all the junk collecting on his sister’s property, Andrew trimmed a tree that dropped on Raymond’s furniture but he wouldn’t admit he did it on purpose, Andrew refused to turn down loud music, Andrew and Raymond got in a physical altercation because of the loud music, Andrew was accidentally cut by the skill saw, Andrew became distraught about their oldest sister who died, Andrew pointed a gun at his sister Helena one night, Andrew suffered with anxiety, Andrew wouldn’t leave the house because he was afraid Raymond would shoot him, Helena called the police for fear that Andrew would commit suicide, instead Andrew was charged with menacing behavior and possession of a deadly weapon, Helena felt bad that he was arrested and went to bat for him at court, the charges are dropped, but Andrew didn’t forgive her, their mother died in the spring of 2007, Raymond was cut out of the will, Raymond felt betrayed that he got nothing and believed that Andrew manipulated their mom, Andrew and sister Helena inherited their mom’s house but Andrew had no money to maintain the house, Andrew wanted his niece and her family to move into the house and help him pay the bills, Andrew turned the garage into his permanent home after they moved in, Andrew started getting annoyed with the children and their messes, Andrew played loud music day after day and wouldn’t turn it down as if he was torturing everyone, niece Holly called the police on Andrew who pretended to be asleep, Holly hoped the issue was settled but it was not, Andrew was very upset that she called the police, the kids got a new puppy but Andrew was not happy because they didn’t ask his permission first, Andrew got his own dog and gave the dog commands to bite their dog, he hoped his dog would kill their dog, Dale confronted Andrew and they got in a fight, Andrew resorted to underhanded tactics like removing the A/C unit from the window, Andrew stopped talking to Holly and Dale, everyone was walking on eggshells, Andrew blasted his music later and later into the night so Holly & Dale shut off his power one night, Andrew tried breaking into their home and they called the police but he couldn’t be charged because it wasn’t criminal in nature, it was a nuisance, there was nothing the police could do to help Holly and Dale, Helena obtained a court order on June 2, 2009 allowing her to sell their mother’s property without Andrew’s say, Andrew was not happy, when Helena returned home the next day, her house was on fire, Dale and Holly’s home was also on fire, both homes were permanently damaged, the family pet was trapped inside and died, the garage apartment also was engulfed in flames, authorities initiated a manhunt for Andrew, the presumed arsonist, after the fire was out, firefighters discovered Andrew’s body in his mother’s home, after an investigation, the family learned that Andrew was seen filling gas cans in town, he poured gasoline all over the properties and then he cut the gas lines, Andrew also purposefully killed the dog and himself in the house fire, neither house was salvageable
Disposition: Andrew Sindriewicz died in the housefire, ruled suicide

Related Links:
N.Y. family dispute ends with fiery death
Sibling dispute turns tragic, ending in arson and suicide Brother dies after setting fire to 2 homes
Fire rescue of man poses a puzzle
Burn Neighbor, Burn | Fear Thy Neighbor | Investigation Discovery (website)
Burn Neighbor, Burn | Fear Thy Neighbor | Investigation Discovery (S3, E6)

Vanity Fair Confidential on Investigation Discovery Features ‘Code of Dishonor’


There are thousands of victims. All members of the American Air Force. How far will they go to stop a covert war against women? -Vanity Fair Confidential

Vanity Fair Confidential on Investigation Discovery featured ‘Code of Dishonor’ which was an investigation of the issue of sexual assault in the military. They highlighted the US Air Force Academy sexual assault scandal back in 2003 and the more recent case of Myah Bilton-Smith, who was also a victim of sexual assault while serving in the United States Air Force. The show revealed that sexual assault can happen to anyone including officers and enlisted.

Related Links:
Code of Dishonor, Vanity Fair
Code of Dishonor Post-Script
Hidden Sexual Assault In The Military: Code Of Dishonor
Conduct Unbecoming
Former cadet talks about rape
`Expect rape,’ ex-cadet says she was warned
More Cadets Speaking Out About Assaults
Former cadets say rapes at academy ended dreams
Defense to investigate cadets’ rape allegations
Ex-Brass Deny Ignoring Victims
Demotion in air academy sex scandal / Air Force general loses one star before retirement
Ex-Superintendent of Air Force Academy Is Demoted in Wake of Rape Scandal
Air Force leadership blamed for sex scandal
Senate to hear female victims of Air Force academy sexual assaults
Interview with Beth Davis, former US Air Force Academy cadet
Air Force Sex Scandal Gets Hotter
Sexual Assault and Violence Against Women in the Military and at the Academies
C-SPAN: Sexual Misconduct in the Military (June 27, 2006)
Albuquerque Reporter Was A ‘Beautiful Girl Inside and Out’
Vanity Fair Confidential ‘Code of Dishonor’ (YouTube)

Ali and Josh Hobson: Sexual Assault and Retaliation in the US Air Force (2015)

Air Force family shares their experience after the unthinkable happens. via Hill Air Force Base, Utah

Highlights of Lt Col Teresa James, Army National Guard, Military Sexual Assault and Retaliation Case

Lt Col Teresa James

Lt Col Teresa James

Lt Col Teresa James had a stellar career in the Army National Guard for over 30 years until she reported being sexually assaulted by a senior officer. Shortly after reporting the crime, she took convalescent leave for 30 days to seek medical treatment and eventually was medically retired because “she refused to come into work” according to leadership in the West Virginia Army National Guard. Lt Col James states that she asked for an extension to her convalescent leave (while continuing to seek medical treatment) or to work at an alternate location away from those who were retaliating against her. She did not want to retire and fought the forced medical retirement process but lost those appeals. She is now speaking up about the sexual assault and retaliation she experienced after reporting the assault.  This case is a good example of the complications associated with the expedited transfer policy and how it is applies to the National Guard when both the accused and the victim are permanently stationed at the same location.

In May 2016, news broke that the Department of Defense Inspector General found that a brigadier general in the West Virginia Army National Guard did in fact retaliate against Lt Col James after she reported that she had been sexually assaulted by another officer. This is the first time that the DoD IG has confirmed a report of retaliation in the military. This case highlights the need for coordinated reform on the part of the Chief, the National Guard Bureau, and all of the state National Guard headquarters. The federal government does not have jurisdiction over the States therefore only the Governor and State Congressional members have authority to enact new laws for the National Guard. The National Guard must enact it’s own policies. The DoD IG has no jurisdiction over the West Virginia Army National Guard therefore cannot court martial or admonish the individuals involved. Lt Col James is focusing on ensuring that all State’s enact legislation to protect their National Guard members.

“My whole reason for speaking out is to educate other survivors,” she said,“ ‘That you are not alone. There are people out there that will help you, and that the best thing to do if you are assaulted is report it.’” (via Charleston Gazette-Mail)

Related Links:
Lt. col. says speaking up about assault hurt her career
Serving in Silence: Rape in the National Guard
Troops who report sexual assault face retaliation
Retiring National Guard officer: Leadership should have done more in sexual assault case
62 Percent of Military Sex Assault Reports Result in Retaliation (A Taste of Creole)
62 Percent of Military Sex Assault Reports Result in Retaliation (NBC Washington)
US: Military Whistleblowers At Risk, Retaliation for Reporting Sexual Assault
WVNG Sexual Assault Claims; Female Officer: Leaders Didn’t Act Fast Enough against Superior
Reporting and Law Enforcement Facts For LTC Teresa James, West Virginia National Guard
Reporting and Law Enforcement Facts For LTC Teresa James, West Virginia National Guard 2
One-star general retaliated against LTC sex assault victim, IG finds
First time: IG confirms retaliation against rape whistleblower
Lt. col. says speaking up about assault hurt her career
IG: Rape whistleblower saw retaliation
DOD report: WV National Guard general retaliated against assault victim
Lt Col Teresa James Shares Experience with Sexual Assault & Reprisal at DoD IG Worldwide Hotline Outreach Conference
DoD substantiates its first-ever sexual assault reprisal case, but victim still waiting for relief
Serving in Silence: Sex Assault Retaliation Complaints Investigated
Retired officer tells of sexual assault, retaliation in WV National Guard
New DOD investigative unit to focus on sexual assault-related reprisals
Military Sexual-Assault Victim Tells Her Story to Social Workers Conference