Former military training instructor Tech. Sgt. Samuel Wicks had his court-martial dismissed Feb. 20 after a judge ruled evidence against him was gained illegally. (Bob Owen / San Antonio Express-News)
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A judge on Feb. 20 ruled evidence in a case against a Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland military training instructor was obtained illegally and the government did not have a case against him.
Tech. Sgt. Samuel A. Wicks was charged with indecent conduct, obstruction of justice and unprofessional relationships with three technical trainees, with whom he was not physically involved. He allegedly sent inappropriate text messages to the women and a video of himself masturbating.
The government retrieved all of that evidence from Wicks' cellphone, said Lackland spokesman Brent Boller. Wicks' ex-girlfriend, also an MTI, took the phone from an office at the basic training squadron and later handed it over to security forces without Wicks' permission. Security forces did not obtain a search warrant before viewing the data on the phone, which prosecutors used to build their case.
Wicks' defense argued the search of the phone without a warrant violated his reasonable expectation to privacy, Boller said. The judge, Col. Donald R. Eller Jr., agreed and suppressed the evidence.
The prosecution argued that they would have ultimately discovered the evidence regardless and asked the judge to reconsider. He declined.
The prosecution has appealed the decision to the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals, Boller said. They have 60 days to make their argument. If the appeals court sides with the judge, the government could bring charges again if prosecutors find evidence not derived from the cell phone.
"There could be administrative actions taken," Boller said. "Those decisions ultimately will be in the hands of his command and the commanders."
Wicks is the ninth MTI to face court-martial in a basic training scandal in which 32 trainers have been accused of misconduct with at least 62 trainees. His is the only case to be dismissed.
The eight others have been convicted on some or all of the charges they faced; half have received punitive discharges as part of their sentences.
Three more MTIs are scheduled to stand trial in the next three weeks. A court-martial for Staff Sgt. Ryan Deraas, accused of having unprofessional relationships with five technical trainees, ordering recruits to fill canteens with toilet water and refusing trainees access to the toilet, is set to begin March 4.