A hard-charging senior enlisted leader finds himself suddenly sidelined in his mission and his stellar career, ordered home from the war zone amid an investigation into a criminal record arising out of a domestic confrontation a full decade ago.

The probe into the 2006 civilian prosecution of then-Tech Sgt. Eric Soluri highlights the Air Force's ongoing challenges in fully and fairly holding airmen accountable for their conduct. It's a responsibility under heightened scrutiny today as all services work to eliminate a reputation for minimizing conduct and policies harmful to women. And it underscores how misconduct by some airmen may fall through the cracks as hundreds are being kicked out of an Air Force cutting end strength by separating those who have had even minor blemishes on their service records.

Whether Soluri's civilian prosecution escaped the full notice of his chain of command or was ever part of his Air Force record is unclear. However, he quickly recovered from an incident that could have ended his career to a fast track to E-9.

In November 2004, when he was working as an E-6 recruiter in Massachusetts, he threatened to bash in the head of his former girlfriend with a candle jar. The woman, a staff sergeant at Hanscom Air Force Base, told authorities they'd been arguing when he demanded she rub his feet and dance naked for him. She refused. Soluri was convicted in a civilian courtroom two years later of threatening to commit a crime. He served 14 days of a six-month jail sentence and was court-ordered to attend a batterers program and undergo a psychological evaluation.

His career should have been over. Soluri himself expected as much, and unsuccessfully petitioned the judge to remove the jail time from his record. But he remained in the Air Force, and just months after he walked out of jail, in June 2007, he was selected for promotion to master sergeant.Soluri was promoted two more times, to the top one percent of the enlisted force, at a time when the slightest infraction — failed PT tests or administrative discipline, for example — has ended the careers of thousands of airmen.

How Soluri ascended to the highest enlisted rank in the Air Force while his conviction and jail sentence went unnoticed or was set aside is now the subject of an investigation at Air Education and Training Command, where he was serving as a security forces manager at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland until he deployed to Afghanistan in April. The 502nd Air Base Wing commander, Brig. Gen. Robert LaBrutta, ordered Soluri to return to San Antonio after the conviction was reported Oct. 10 by a former Hanscom officer who knew of the case and was shocked to learn last month that Soluri was still serving.

The Office of Special Investigations will look into "all details of the case, including information related to subsequent accountability actions following his civilian conviction," said AETC spokesman Col. Sean McKenna, while cautioning against a rush to judgment.

Soluri has been temporarily reassigned to wing headquarters at Fort Sam Houston.

"Rest assured that Air Force leadership takes the allegations seriously, will evaluate the facts to determine if misconduct occurred and, as necessary, take appropriate actions to hold people accountable," McKenna said. "Misconduct is incompatible with our core values, harmful to good order and discipline, and makes us a less effective fighting force."

Air Force Times requested to speak to Soluri through McKenna, who said 502nd Air Base Wing leadership reported back that Soluri declined the interview request.

The case

Five days after the Nov. 28, 2004, encounter, Soluri's then-live-in girlfriend moved out of the off-base home they shared. She reported the incident to Air Force authorities at the encouragement of her leadership, according to Concord District Court documents.

Air Force Times is not naming the woman because some of her allegations are of a sexual nature. She declined an interview request through an AETC official, McKenna said.

In response to her report in 2004, the service issued an order barring Soluri, a previous security forces airman who was then serving as an Air Force recruiter, from having any contact with the woman on base. She also later obtained a civilian restraining order that applied off base.

On Dec. 7, Air Force OSI agents referred the case to the Concord police department, who assigned a detective named Paul Morrison to investigate.

According to the detective's narrative filed in court records:

At least three people — including the victim's Hanscom supervisor — said in the months leading up to the domestic incident, Soluri phoned her repeatedly at the office and showed up when he couldn't reach her. During the unannounced visits, Soluri would insist he speak to her, said the supervisor, and not leave when asked.

At the same time, the girlfriend's supervisor, a technical sergeant, told police about other "bizarre" behaviors by Soluri.

Inside the couple's rented house, there was friction between Soluri and the woman's elementary-age daughter from a previous marriage, the girlfriend as well as her mother and Hanscom supervisor told Morrison. When the woman decided to take her daughter to a relative's out-of-state birthday party over Thanksgiving weekend in 2004 without Soluri, he disapproved, the staff sergeant told police. The couple began arguing soon after the woman and her daughter returned home that Sunday evening, she said.

The woman told Morrison that Soluri had asked whether any other men had spoken to her during the weekend; she responded that she had approached a man at a bar.

Soluri allegedly threw her suitcase outside and threatened to kill her cat and put it in the Dumpster. At one point, Soluri "picked up a candle in a glass jar and told her that ... he was going to bash her head in," according to court documents.

She further alleged that later that night a consensual sexual encounter turned into an act of forced and painful sex.

When interviewed by the detective in January 2005, Soluri denied the allegations. He said the woman made up the story because Soluri had threatened to tell the staff sergeant's leadership about her alleged drinking problem. Soluri also accused his former girlfriend of striking his son from a previous marriage.

Morrison reported those allegations to local child and family services officials, but the matter was dropped.

Meanwhile, the detective interviewed an Air Force master sergeant who knew Soluri. The master sergeant said Soluri was not the type of man to "ever put his hands on a woman, but he would mentally mess with people because of his skills as an investigator," Morrison wrote in the narrative.

On Feb. 10, 2005, Morrison met with a Middlesex prosecutor and an Air Force official. The prosecutor stated that the victim's account "was credible and consistent with the fresh complaint witnesses," according to the documents.

On April 20, the prosecutor sought a criminal complaint against Soluri charging him with assault and battery and threatening to commit a crime. OSI agents told Morrison that the Air Force would not pursue misconduct charges against Soluri.

Jail time & re-enlistment

The case went to court in October 2006, nearly two years after the incident. By then, Soluri was a recruiting instructor supervisor at Lackland.

He was convicted of the charge of threat to commit a crime, a misdemeanor, and found not guilty of assault and battery. A Concord District Court judge sentenced Soluri to six months in jail, of which he was to serve 14 days. He also had to attend a batterer's intervention program and undergo a psychological evaluation, according to court records. He would remain on probation until April 2008.

In the spring of 2007, Soluri petitioned the court to officially revise his record to reflect that he had not spent any time in jail. The Air Force had placed him on "inmate status," according to his sworn affidavit, and as a result, he had not received any pay or benefits since Oct. 26, 2006.

Soluri's two children, of whom he had custody, "do not have any health insurance," Soluri wrote.

Soluri stated to the court that he was not allowed to re-enlist and that there was also a "strong likelihood that I will be dishonorably discharged from USAF after 14 plus years of decorated service," according to a sworn affidavit.

"Should this sentence remain as it is," the motion stated, "it would cause the Defendant [Soluri] to permanently lose any and all benefits associated with his career in the United States Air Force."

Soluri's motion was denied. The 14 days he spent in jail would remain in the Concord District Court record.

It is not clear, then, how Soluri was allowed to re-enlist in the Air Force and continue to rise through the ranks.

Airmen are subject to discharge when they are sentenced to six months or more, regardless of whether the sentence is suspended or they are placed on probation, service spokeswoman Rose Richeson said in an email.

Airmen with five or more days of lost time — when they are not available for duty — cannot re-enlist without a waiver from a unit commander, according to Air Force instruction. Soluri had 11 days of lost time as a result of his sentence.

His commanders at the time also could have established an unfavorable information file in Soluri's Air Force record, but such an action is only mandatory when a civilian court conviction carries a sentence of a year or more, AETC spokeswoman Maj. Toni Whaley said.

A UIF, if established on Soluri, most likely would have been removed after one year. It also would have had little or no bearing on his promotion to master sergeant, since promotion to E-7 and below required testing only. (This story has been corrected. Promotion to E-8 requires a centralized evaluation board.)

A former officer said a UIF is standard for civilian convictions and are used to identify airmen who will be considered for forced early retirements and reductions in force as the Air Force gets smaller.

"Every time there is a [reduction in force], they run everyone who has a UIF and they're on the list," he said.

Whether there were other official documents that required disclosure of a civilian conviction during Soluri's career is under investigation, McKenna said.

"That information will be presented to the wing commander upon the investigation's conclusion," he said.

Soluri was still on probation when he pinned on master sergeant at Lackland in February 2008. In August 2010, he returned to security forces, this time at Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, where he served as operations superintendent for the 28th Security Forces Squadron.

He went from master sergeant to chief in less than three years, adding his E-9 stripe in December.

Meanwhile, in June, 3,500 airmen learned they were being separated under the Air Force's first Quality Review Board. Airmen on the chopping block included those who had refused training, had a grade reduction, were denied re-enlistment or were on a control roster, meaning they were under a commander's microscope for failing to live up to standards of conduct and integrity on duty or off.

That was in addition to the more than 1,800 airmen who were axed under the first wave of date-of-separation rollbacks that ended in May 2013. The Air Force said those rollbacks targeted airmen who had either done something wrong or made a decision that left them with a black mark on their record.

Staff writer Steve Losey contributed to this story.

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