In recent months, the military justice system has come under scrutiny following the resolution of three separate and unrelated cases involving senior Army officers accused of sexual misconduct. Each case involving lieutenant colonels concluded with plea agreements that led to reprimands, the mildest form of military judicial punishment. These outcomes have ignited a debate over whether the Army’s judicial system harbors an implicit bias that favors higher-ranking officials, allowing them to evade the full weight of the law and maintain their careers and benefits intact.

Convicted of Assault, Battery, and Sexual Harassment

Lieutenant Colonel Mark Patterson, who served as the commander of the 941st Military Police Battalion during its mission along the southern U.S. border, found himself in legal turmoil after a series of allegations surfaced against him. Following a plea deal in January, Patterson was convicted of assault consummated by a battery, sexual harassment, and maltreatment. The nature of these charges suggests a pattern of inappropriate behavior, yet the details of what Patterson specifically admitted to remain unclear.

Patterson’s misconduct reportedly targeted two female subordinates, a first lieutenant and a sergeant, from October 2022 to January 2023. His actions included:

  • Making unsolicited sexual advances.
  • Sending personal photographs.
  • Inviting them to personal engagements in ways that clearly overstepped professional boundaries.

Additionally, Patterson was accused of physically assaulting a captain and wrongfully keeping an animal, adding layers to his alleged misconduct. Despite the severity of these accusations, Patterson’s punishment was a reprimand, a decision that has raised serious questions about the military’s commitment to holding its officers accountable.

Sex Acts with Junior Enlisted

Another case involves Lieutenant Colonel Jonny Gonzalez, who was accused of engaging in sexual acts with a junior enlisted naval trainee in a public restroom, an act witnessed by a retired noncommissioned officer and others. In December, Gonzalez accepted a plea deal that resulted in a reprimand for conduct unbecoming an officer. This case is particularly troubling given the power dynamics at play and the public nature of the misconduct. Gonzalez is currently in the process of leaving the Army but is likely to retire with full benefits and his rank unaffected, underscoring the perceived leniency of military justice for high-ranking officers.

Hidden Cameras in Changing Rooms

The third officer, Lieutenant Colonel Jacob Sweatland, was arrested in September 2022 after a hidden camera he placed in a changing room at a clothing store was discovered. The device, found by a 16-year-old girl, contained images from various locations, including other stores and a gym, illustrating a premeditated violation of privacy. Sweatland’s case was notable not only for the nature of the crime but also for the decision of local authorities to hand the case over to the Army, expecting a more severe punishment. However, his plea deal in January led to a reprimand for indecent visual recording and conduct unbecoming of an officer, raising concerns about the effectiveness of military justice in deterring such behavior.