A victim advocate formerly assigned to the Special Forces at Fort Bragg, North Carolina was placed on administrative leave, investigated for two years, and ultimately fired after she raised questions about the military’s handling of a Delta Force soldier accused of rape.
The victim advocate, Lindsey Knapp, was a civilian employee of the US Army’s Special Operations Command, known as USASOC, and attended the court martial of the accused Delta Force soldier, Cristobal Lopez Vallejo, in order to support the alleged victim, a young artillery officer named Erin Scanlon, whose harrowing ordeal with the military justice system Rolling Stone recounted in a recent investigation, “Delta Force’s Dirty Secret.”
Knapp reached Out to Rolling Stone within minutes of the article’s publication. In a recent interview, she corroborated Scanlon’s account of the Army’s alleged mishandling of the case and added new, previously unreported details. “My job was to attend the trial,” Knapp says. “There were all kinds of things that went wrong.”
In September 2016, Scanlon went to the agents with the Army’s Criminal Investigative Division, or CID, and told them that Vallejo had raped her on the hood of a junked car behind a metal warehouse in downtown Fayetteville, the military town surrounding Fort Bragg, after a drunken fundraiser at a nearby bar. Her allegation was supported by ample evidence: Immediately after the alleged assault, she had sent Vallejo an accusatory text message — asking him “do you realize what you did?” — to which he didn’t respond. Within the hour, she had told two different people that she’d been raped. The next morning, she’d gone directly to Womack Army Medical Center to undergo a sexual assault exam that had identified injuries consistent with forcible penetration. She shared all of her details with the CID agents. However, they declined to investigate. They told her that they didn’t have jurisdiction because it was off-base.
The next day, Scanlon was taken to Fayetteville Police. A civilian detective interviewed witnesses and collected DNA evidence. Vallejo was then placed under arrest for second-degree sexual assault. Vallejo was indicted. He faced up to 19 year imprisonment. However, two weeks before his scheduled trial in civil court, military prosecutors assigned for the Special Forces arrived and remanded the case to Fort Bragg.
The court martial was swift and quiet. Scanlon was not allowed to attend, and all of the jurors were former Special Forces soldiers. No transcript was made of the trial, and as soon as it concluded with Vallejo’s acquittal on all counts, USASOC deleted the audio recordings, leaving no record of the testimony that was heard, the arguments the lawyers made, or the judge’s oral rulings. Vallejo faced no legal repercussions, while Scanlon’s career and reputation were left in shambles.
Knapp, who witnessed the trial firsthand says that she was “livid” about what she saw as a carefully managed legal process that minimized Vallejo’s chances of being convicted and left Scanlon at a severe disadvantage. She wrote a five-page, detailed letter dated August 10, 2018 and sent it to Lt. Gen. Francis Beaudette (commander of USASOC) asking for review of what she saw as several deficiencies and irregularities. “As an Attorney myself, I can certainly appreciate the nuances of the justice system,”She wrote. “But in my view, [Scanlon] never had a chance.”
USASOC responded quickly and opened an investigation against Knapp. “conduct unbecoming a federal employee.” She was put on administrative leave for the next two years, at the conclusion of which, she was harshly reprimanded in writing, then terminated from a position she’d held since 2014. Since then, she hasn’t worked for the military.
Knapp is currently pursuing a workplace discrimination case with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “Due to ongoing litigation,”A spokeswoman from USASOC stated that the Special Forces command was being addressed in a statement. “cannot comment on Ms. Knapp’s claims.”Delta Force, a classified force dedicated to coveringt overseas operations “black ops,”We were unable to reach you for comment.
Knapp believes that Scanlon’s experience is emblematic of the many difficulties faced by military women who report being raped, as well as a case study in why the uniformed chain-of-command should not be trusted to handle cases of sexual assault — especially where the alleged perpetrator is a member of an elite unit. It came at a time when members of Congress were actively working to remove the authority to prosecute major crimes, including rape, from unit commanders and place it in the hands of independent prosecutors — a push that the Pentagon brass fiercely resisted. Had the details of Vallejo’s trial come to light, Knapp believes, it would have been Exhibit A in the case for legislative reform. USASOC had a strong motive to silence Knapp by keeping the court martial under wraps.
“I thought if I told the commanding general, they would have to take action,”She said. Looking back “I was naïve to think that they were actually going to do something.”
The military judge who oversaw Vallejo’s court martialCol. Jeffrey Nance was present before the Pentagon advisory committee on sexual violence in the military (February 2020). Nance was asked by one panel member if he could explain why there is such a low conviction rate for soldiers accused of rape. He replied that many of these cases were factually weak because commanders are too weak. “an incredible amount of pressure” from politicians and the media to press charges — even where proof is lacking. He said that this is why he was very often accused. “it’s a bad case,”With “bad facts,” “you’re going to get any acquittal.”
But Knapp didn’t see a “bad case”Oder “bad facts” in Scanlon’s case. She recognized a serious injustice in justice, and was determined to rectify it. Of the many things that gave her cause for concern, one had to do with Scanlon’s military-appointed attorney, known as a Special Victim Counsel, or SVC.
To begin with, USASOC swapped out Scanlon’s assigned SVC no fewer than five times. It’s not clear why USASOC switched the SVCs so frequently, but it left Scanlon disoriented and confused about the process. Then Judge Nance ordered Scanlon’s first SVC, Capt. Alycia Stokes testified against her and found that the attorney-client privilege was waived.
The issue was whether Scanlon accurately reported that she saw an eyewitness during the alleged assault. Vallejo allegedly forced her against a vehicle behind the warehouse and a red-haired woman walked out to see what was happening. She yelled something, then returned in. Scanlon says the detail initially slipped her memory and that she didn’t remember it until months later.
At trial, Vallejo’s defense argued that Scanlon had tried to conceal the existence of this witness; Scanlon’s testimony was that she had in fact told Capt. Stokes told Stokes, although late, about the red-haired lady. In order to get to the bottom of this, Judge Nance ordered Stokes to appear at trial and testify about confidential conversations she’d had with Scanlon in her capacity as a rape counselor. “I specifically find that any attorney-client privilege that may have existed concerning these statements has been waived,”Nance wrote a letter dated June 26, 2018, in which he outlined his intentions.
Knapp claims that the prosecution team has resisted this “insane”Stokes was placed on leave to ensure she could not testify. Knapp claims that this angered Nance. “He ordered her to appear or else he was going to send US marshals for her. Then he berated her on the stand for being elusive and not showing up right away.”
Stokes revealed, against her will in written testimony that Scanlon hadn’t in fact reported to Stokes the existence the red-headed eyewitness. This had the effect of undercutting Scanlon’s credibility and sowing doubts about the accuracy of her memory, a critical part of the prosecution’s case.
Knapp says that never before in her four years’ experience as a victim advocate had she seen a case in which the judge ordered an SVC to testify against her own client. “He was adamant about her testifying,”She said. “It was clear that he didn’t give a damn”Concerning attorney-client confidentiality, Stokes and Scanlon
Nance, in general, says she, was disrespectful of SVCs. “Judge Nance stated in open court and on the record that ‘SVCs just do whatever they want,’”In her letter, she wrote: “and further indicated his disgust for SVCs in general.”
It was unsuccessful to reach Judge Nance via phone. USASOC has not previously made Judge Nance available for interview.
The Uniform Code for Military Justice (UCMJ) is the legal system that military courts use. It is completely different from civilian courts. The UCMJ statute governing the sexual assault and the associated procedural rules are pretty much the same as in a state or federal court. In theory, then, Vallejo’s trial should have proceeded much the same as it would have in Cumberland County, had civilian justice been allowed to take its course. In practice, Scanlon’s lawyer being forced to testify against her was just one of several anomalies, all of which operated in Vallejo’s favor, that were made possible by the military’s assertion of jurisdiction over the case.
Another issue was that the national security reasons prevented police officers from interviewing key witnesses. As Knapp pointed out in her letter, the Special Forces command refused to disclose to Fayetteville detectives the names of two other Delta Force soldiers, friends of Vallejo’s, who were present at the time of the alleged assault. “Fayetteville asked to interview those people,” Knapp says. “USASOC declined. They would not give up their identities.”This hindered civilian detectives’ ability to build a case against Vallejo, on whose investigative files military prosecutors relied at trial.
In this, USASOC’s image-conscious, scandal-averse leadership may have had motivations outside this specific case, because one of the Delta Force soldiers whose identity they withheld was William “Billy”Lavigne II. Rolling Stone reported this in a previous article. “The Fort Bragg Murders,” in March 2018 — right around the time that military prosecutors took control of Vallejo’s trial — Lavigne shot and killed a Green Beret in the living room of his house in Fayetteville without suffering the slightest legal consequences.
Sheriff’s deputies arrested Lavigne and took him downtown, but released him that same night into the custody of his Delta Force teammates, who showed up in force to pick him up and take him home. Despite a wealth of evidence, the district attorney concluded that Lavigne’s shooting was justified. Army CID came to the same conclusion, for reasons that it refuses to disclose to the victim’s family or to the public.
Lavigne, who was apparently a professional hit by skilled assassins, was found dead at Fort Bragg 18 months later. CBS News was told by an unnamed Army official that authorities believed Lavigne had been killed. “a double homicide from a drug deal gone wrong.”
She sent the letter shortly after. USASOC launched an investigation into Knapp. Knapp was stripped of her security clearance and sent home on administrative leave. The next two years were spent under investigation for alleged “spillage” of classified information – namely, the fact that Vallejo was a member of Delta Force, which Knapp had included in the letter and sent by email over an unclassified network. Knapp didn’t believe and still maintains that nothing contained in the letter was a secret.
Although the Army denies that Delta Force exists, it is true that all information about it, including its identities, is classified. This unit may have been renamed to the 3rd Operational Support Group recently. It is an elite raiding team and intelligence team that performs operations the US government denies or denies having taken place. By identifying Vallejo on paper as a member, Knapp was probably in violation of Department of Defense regulations that she’d agreed to abide by when she took a job with the Special Forces.
Knapp’s arrest for what seems to be a minor detail is a sign of whistleblower retaliation. From Coast x Coast’s Instagram page, replete with photos and bios of slain Delta Force soldiers, it’s obvious what unit the motorcycle club pertains to. And Knapp’s email was limited to a handful of senior Army officers; in addition to Gen. Beaudette, she sent it to the US Army Forces Command, and the Fort Bragg equal employment office.
USASOC reacted as if she had sent Vallejo’s home address to Al Qaeda.
“Your behavior is very serious in nature,”Timothy Hill, the executive Director of the 1st Special Forces Command sent Knapp a scornful memo in which she recommended her removal as victim advocate. “Your flagrant disregard for operational security was a significant disruption to USASOC operations.”Hill added: “Your actions are deliberate and intentional. You have shown a pattern of behavior that is totally inconsistent with Army and USASOC values. Your repeated unauthorized disclosure of classified information placed the security of the organization at risk.”In conclusion, he wrote: “I do not believe that any alternative sanction other than removal is appropriate.”
Knapp tried to contest the decision but was unsuccessful. She was fired May 1, 2020. “conduct unbecoming a federal employee.” Her career, like Scanlon’s, came to a crashing halt as soon as it conflicted with Vallejo’s. Only he emerged with his career intact from this ordeal.
The members of Congress, under the leadership of Sen. Kristin GilibrandWith the support from President Joe Biden, they nearly succeeded in including provisions within the 2022 military-spending law that would have allowed independent prosecutors and not the uniformed command to prosecute any service member accused of any felony that carries more than a one-year sentence. The proposed reforms were supported by Lloyd Austin, Secretary of Defense. However, other Pentagon leaders as well as Senators Jack Reed, Jim Inhofe, opposed them tooth and nail. The bill was amended to allow independent prosecutors to only recommend charges in sexual assault, murder, and kidnapping cases, but it leaves the actual administration for courts-martial in unit commanders’ hands.
Reporters were told by Gillibrand that commanders still have the ability to choose the jury, select witnesses, adjudicate immunity requests, order depositions, approve hiring expert witnesses and to separate service members from the Armed Forces in lieu a court-martial.
“At the end of the day,” Knapp says, “commanders are still going to be a part of this process. So what does it really change?” She adds that the chain-of-command will still retain the power to short-circuit a criminal case because military investigators like Army CID can decline to investigate from the outset, as CID did in response to Scanlon’s initial complaint, preventing a rape claim from reaching the independent prosecutors in the first place. “It’s going to get stopped before it gets there,”Knapp makes predictions. “We’re going to have this same problem.”
Reforms to military law do not change the discrimination shown to members in the Delta Force community of Cumberland County or other nearby jurisdictions. As documented in “The Fort Bragg Murders”In “Delta Force’s Dirty Secret,”In this area of North Carolina, charges against special operators and serious felonies have a mysterious way of disappearing. Knapp is only the latest in a long line of people — mostly women — who have told Rolling Stone that around here, active and retired Delta Force men are their own kind of royalty, who enjoy the same sort of impunity as privileged rich kids, the pals of politicians, or professional athletes. “Everybody,”She said, “wants to rub elbows with these Delta Force folks.”
This is especially true in the ritzy village of Southern Pines, a half hour’s drive from Fort Bragg. Contrary to the rest of North Carolina which is relatively poor and has seen stagnant wages for decades, Southern Pines can be described as a retirement haven by corporate executives. It is known for its large mansions, extensive horse farms, hosting the US Open golf tournament, and for being a wealth of other amenities. Less well known, except to locals, is that Southern Pines is also the social base of the Delta Force community, where the Army’s most elite soldiers mix and mingle with the super-rich equestrian class.
“On any given night at any random bar, there will be an operator there, telling people that he’s an operator. To pick up chicks, basically. They’re like celebrities. In large part that’s kind of why Erin [Scanlon] got [allegedly sexually assaulted],” Knapp says. “Delta guys aren’t accustomed to being told no. They’re accustomed to being able to go wherever they want and get whatever they want. That’s the environment here.”