Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin, left, is retiring as the Third Air Force commander. Lt. Gen. Stephen Mueller, right, is the Air Force Inspector General. (Air Force photos)
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The Air Force Inspector General — an independent overseer of criminal cases, including sexual assault cases — went to Facebook to express his dismay about Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin’s decision to retire following criticism of his handling of sex assault cases.
Lt. Gen. Stephen Mueller said he is “heart broken” and “bitter” about the retirement of Third Air Force commander Franklin’s decision to retire, and said it could force commanders to pursue sex assault cases regardless of the evidence.
“If commanders believe their only choice can be to prosecute we are significantly tilting the balance of justice that we all hold so dear,” Mueller wrote in a Facebook comment at the end of an airforcetimes.com story.
Franklin’s decision 11 months ago to overturn the sex assault conviction of then-Lt. Col. James Wilkerson led to substantial changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Commanders no longer have the authority to reverse a court-martial conviction. Franklin came under fire again last month for dismissing charges against an airman first class accused of raping a female staff sergeant.
Mueller’s office has also come under criticism for its handling of sex assault cases.
On Jan. 7, a retired technical sergeant filed a complaint that called an investigation into allegations of ongoing sexual harassment at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., “biased and inadequate.”
Mueller’s officeinvestigated retired Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Smith’s complaint, issuing a report in July that substantiated 17 of the 38 allegations against 16 people at Shaw. Her complaint also fueled an Air Force-wide health and safety inspection in December 2012 that found more than 32,000 items deemed offensive in Air Force work spaces.
But an attorney for Smith, Ryan Guilds, said in a statement the IG report “minimized the seriousness of the substantiated offenses, recommended few meaningful corrective actions, and failed to adequately address the stark reality of the Air Force: that sexual harassment in the Air Force is a way of life for the brave women who serve our country.”
Smith’s complaint asks for a re-investigation by military officials outside her chain of command.
Nancy Parrish, president of Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group for victims of military sexual assault, said in an email she is not surprised Mueller would be personally upset about Franklin’s departure.
But Mueller’s concern “that political pressure on commanders to prosecute sexual assaults will result in ‘significantly tilting the balance of justice that we all hold so dear,’ only furthers the claim that these decisions should not be made by those with personal opinions or interests at stake,” Parrish said.
Protect Our Defenders brought Smith’s complaint to light when it published on its website pages of material Smith found on the Shaw server that was violent and degrading toward women.
“The only way to truly mitigate the possibility of tipping the scales of justice in either direction to is give the decision to professionally trained, independent military prosecutors,” Parrish said.
Mueller, who has been Air Force Inspector General since May 2012, declined comment.
Brig. Gen. Les Kodlick, director of Air Force public affairs, said the Facebook post was from “a good friend saddened by the news of Franklin’s retirement.”
In the Facebook post, Mueller said Franklin is “one of the most honorable generals the Air Force has ever had. His [moral] compass is as true as they come and I hope that serving officers can follow in his footsteps when we need [moral] courage to move forward.”
Mueller further stated that Franklin’s retirement is “an unfair characterization of his service and honor.”
Air Force biographies of Mueller and Franklin show they served together at Kunsan Air Base, Korea, from July 1999 to July 2000. Mueller was commander of the 8th Operations Group; Franklin was deputy operations group commander.
Both men are Air Force Academy graduates; Franklin graduated in 1981, two years after Mueller. Both are also F-16 pilots.
Kodlick said that while the two are friends, “there is no question that Gen. Mueller can separate his personal feelings from his professional duties.”
As commander of Third Air Force at Aviano Air Base, Italy, Franklin was required to review Wilkerson’s conviction and affirm, modify or overturn the jury’s decision. He overturned the conviction in February based on his conclusion that there was not enough evidence to prove Wilkerson’s guilt and his belief that Wilkerson was a devoted father and husband. Franklin’s decision drew harsh criticism from members of Congress and victim advocates who called for his retirement, especially after the Air Force confirmed in June that Wilkerson had fathered a child out of wedlock nine years ago.
Franklin’s last day as Third Air Force commander is Jan. 31. He said his decision to retire, at a yet unspecified date, came after “much consideration and discussion with my family.”
“In the last 10 months as the Commander of Third Air Force and 17th Expeditionary Air Force, my judgment has been questioned publicly regarding my decisions as a general court martial convening authority,” Franklin said in a statement announcing his retirement. “This is a distraction for the Air Force and for my role as a general court martial convening authority.”
“The last thing I want in this command, is for people to feel they cannot bring a sexual assault case forward or feel it won’t be dealt with fairly. In addition, public scrutiny will likely occur on every subsequent case I deal with. I am concerned this could jeopardize the privacy of both the victim and the accused,” Franklin said.