Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall is allowing a former senior master sergeant to retire after being convicted of abusive sexual contact and dereliction of duty, though the airman’s wing commander recommended he be fired, the service said Tuesday evening.

Master Sgt. Jeremy Zier, a manager at the Air Force Public Affairs Agency at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, was found guilty in a special court-martial in August 2020.

Tech. Sgt. Cambria Ferguson has publicly accused him of groping her in a hot tub while they were stationed in Turkey in 2015. She was an airman first class at the time. Zier denied the claim. He was also charged with dereliction of duty for disrobing in the hot tub with lower-ranking airmen.

The jury found him not guilty on two other charges of similar conduct in December 2019, including one in Charleston, South Carolina, and another in San Antonio.

“As a senior non-commissioned officer, Sergeant Zier had a special responsibility and duty to protect and look after the airmen under his authority,” Kendall said Tuesday. “Sergeant Zier’s misconduct against a fellow airman violated that trust and his duty as an Air Force leader. Such conduct is unacceptable, does not meet Air Force standards and won’t be tolerated.”

An administrative discharge board decided in December 2020 to keep Zier in the Air Force. In April 2021, 502nd Air Base Wing commander Brig. Gen. Caroline Miller sent the case on to Kendall to review and potentially reverse that outcome.

Zier then asked to retire instead of being discharged, complaining that the Air Force was trying to push him out without a pension. It was up to Kendall to decide the final outcome.

Zier was slated to become a chief master sergeant but will finish his career as a technical sergeant, after being twice demoted over the course of his prosecution. The jury at his court-martial reduced him to master sergeant instead of issuing jail time; Kendall will now demote him to technical sergeant as well.

“The consequences of Sergeant Zier’s conduct were thoroughly considered in criminal and administrative forums, and finally by the secretary, in accordance with the law and process,” Air Force spokesperson Rose Riley said Wednesday. “The secretary’s decision to demote Sergeant Zier will carry a significant loss of retirement income over the course of his lifetime.”

The Air Force hasn’t yet set his retirement date.

Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.

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