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He Was Accused of Sexual Assault, She of Using Drugs. The Military Dealt With Them Very Differently.

15 Aug 2022

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Military commanders have the power to detain service members ahead of trial through a process known as pretrial confinement. Commanders consider whether the suspect may flee or reoffend and if less severe restrictions can keep the person out of trouble. An investigation by ProPublica and The Texas Tribune into the Army’s use of pretrial confinement found that soldiers who were detained weren’t always the ones accused of the most serious crimes.

Below are examples of how a soldier accused of sexual assault and another accused of drug offenses were treated differently.

Christian Alvarado

Private first class

Olivia Ochoa

Private

Charged in total with:

Christian Alvarado:

  • Nine counts of sexual assault involving five women
  • One count of aggravated assault by strangulation
  • Two counts of making a false official statement

8% of sexual assault cases tried or arraigned at courts-martial in the past decade resulted in pretrial confinement

Olivia Ochoa:

  • Three counts of drug use or possession
  • Seven counts of disobeying or disrespecting officers
  • One count of failing to obey an order

18% of drug cases tried or arraigned at courts-martial in the past decade resulted in pretrial confinement

In deciding whether to place soldiers in pretrial confinement, commanders can consider previous misconduct. Their alleged misconduct included:
  • Before the first sexual assault allegation, Alvarado was arrested by local police for firing a gun outside his girlfriend’s house. He was reprimanded by the Army.
  • Ochoa was written up repeatedly for misconduct that included a messy room, not having enough water in her water bottle and being late to work.
  • Ochoa was reprimanded when she and another soldier were accused of sexual harassment after repeatedly flirting and slapping each others’ butts and thighs during formation.
  • She was punished for drinking.
Commanders also look at the nature of the offenses that may be tried at court-martial. Their alleged offenses included:
  • Alvarado admitted in a statement to sexually assaulting a soldier named Asia Graham.
  • He was accused of sexually assaulting an Army chaplain's assistant.
  • He admitted in a text message that he had sexually assaulted and strangled a civilian named Lee, who agreed to be identified by her middle name.
  • Ochoa admitted to consuming THC, the compound that gives marijuana its high.
  • Army investigators found psychedelic mushrooms and what they believed to be a vape pen in her room.
Before invoking pretrial confinement, commanders can place restrictions on soldiers’ freedom. Their restrictions included:
  • Protective orders required Alvarado to stay at least 100 feet away from Graham and the chaplain's assistant.
  • Army commanders issued another protective order after Lee accused Alvarado of sexual assault. They then limited where Alvarado could be when he was at Fort Bliss. He could still live off post.
  • He was required to check in with commanders multiple times per day, in person or by phone.
  • Ochoa was limited to specific places on post at Fort Huachuca.
  • She needed to sign out of her barracks and be accompanied by a buddy wherever she went.
  • She was required to check in with the drill sergeant’s office hourly.
They allegedly broke their restrictions by:
  • Alvarado failed to consistently check in with his commanders four weekends in a row.
  • Ochoa visited stores from which she was barred on back-to-back days.
They were put in pretrial confinement for:
  • Alvarado was placed in pretrial confinement eight days after a fourth and fifth woman accused him of sexual assault. This was a month after he first started to miss check-ins and nine months after the first two sexual assault accusations.
  • He eventually spent 108 days in pretrial confinement.
  • Ochoa was placed in pretrial confinement for refusing commanders’ orders to return to her room about three weeks after she was caught with drugs. A military magistrate ordered her release, saying she hadn't violated her restrictions. Commanders soon confined her again, immediately after she visited prohibited stores on post.
  • She eventually spent 103 days in pretrial confinement.
They were convicted of:

Christian Alvarado:

  • Sexually assaulting Graham and Lee
  • Strangling Lee
  • Lying to investigators

Alvarado was sentenced to 18 years in a military prison and given a dishonorable discharge. His case is under automatic appeal by the Army Court of Criminal Appeals, which can overturn convictions and reduce sentencing. In a letter, Alvarado told ProPublica and the Tribune that he is innocent. He and his attorney declined to answer the news organizations’ questions.

Olivia Ochoa:

  • Consuming THC
  • Possessing psychedelic mushrooms
  • Disobeying or disrespecting superior officers four times

Ochoa was sentenced to time served after receiving credit for the more than 100 days she spent in pretrial confinement. She was given an other-than-honorable discharge, which her lawyer is appealing, and had to forfeit some wages as part of her plea deal. Ochoa and her attorney maintain that commanders treated her unfairly and that the length of time she spent in pretrial confinement was excessive.

Source: U.S. Army records of trial, disciplinary documents and criminal investigation reports; Army Court-Martial Information System.

Help ProPublica and The Texas Tribune Report on the Military Justice System

Graphic by Fernando Becerra and illustrated portraits by Kate Copeland for ProPublica and The Texas Tribune.


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This content was originally published by Propublica. Original publishers retain all rights. It appears here for a limited time before automated archiving. By Propublica

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