FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 26, 2014 Contact: Brian Purchia, firstname.lastname@example.org
*** PRESS RELEASE ***
FORMER AIR FORCE CHIEF PROSECUTOR COLONEL DON CHRISTENSEN (RET.) NAMED PRESIDENT OF PROTECT OUR DEFENDERS
After Serving Over Two Decades in the U.S. Air Force, Colonel Christensen Retires from the Military to Effect Change and Speak Out Against the Sexual Assault Epidemic — Calls for Fundamental Reform to Broken System; Col Christensen Successfully Prosecuted the Fighter Pilot at the Center of the Aviano Scandal, But the pilot’s Conviction was Overturned by a Conflicted and Biased Chain of Command
Washington DC – Today, in a cover story that will appear in the New York Times Magazine on Sunday, Colonel Don Christensen announced that he has left the United States Air Force after 23 years and will become President of Protect Our Defenders (POD). Having served for four years as the Chief Prosecutor of the U.S. Air Force—the longest time for anyone who has held that position—as well as a defense attorney and a judge in a number of high profile cases. Col Christensen brings a unique, perspective to the ongoing sexual assault crisis in the military, and has witnessed first hand the failures of the military justice system.
In his role as Chief Prosecutor, Col Christensen was responsible for managing military prosecutors all over the world. Among the many cases he chose to prosecute personally in this role was one of the most high profile cases in recent Air Force history—the case at Aviano Air Base in Italy, where Lt Colonel James Wilkerson was found guilty of aggravated sexual assault, sentenced to a year in jail, and dismissed from the Air Force. In that case, Lt General Craig Franklin, the convening authority, overturned the conviction and freed his fellow fighter pilot, reinstating him back into the Air Force against the recommendation of his own legal counsel.
Col Christensen’s released the following statement regarding his decision to leave the military in order to speak out in support of fundamental reform:
“As a military prosecutor, I have personally seen the abuse and injustice victims of sexual assault face in the military,” said Col Christensen. “At first, I truly believed as the Chief Prosecutor of the Air Force I could help fix the broken military justice system from the inside. But after Aviano, where I watched at least 30 commanders, some of whom served as convening authorities, come to the defense of Wilkerson after he was convicted of sexual assault and blatantly attack the prosecution, judge, investigators, and the jury, this changed. I realized that in order to see substantial change, I would need to leave the Air Force, breaking a military tradition that has been a part of my family for over 150 years.”
“The military justice system is fundamentally broken. Your rapists’ boss should not decide whether to investigate or prosecute a sexual assault allegation or pick the jury. The decision to prosecute is a legal decision that must be entrusted to professional, legally trained prosecutors, the jury should be randomly selected, not hand picked by the accused’s commander. The military justice system must be changed. I am leaving the institution I love and joining Protect Our Defenders in order to fix this broken system.”
Col Christensen’s family has a history of American military service dating back to the Civil War. His family has served this country’s military for six generations; his great-great-great grandfather enlisted in the Army in the 1850s and served through the entirety of the Civil War; his great-great-grandfather fought at the Battle of Little Big Horn; his great-grandfather served on the Mexican border in the Army’s efforts against Pancho Villa; his Grandfather served in three wars including World War II; and his father flew 102 combat missions over Vietnam.
Protect Our Defenders’ Founder Nancy Parrish released the following statement:
“We are honored and humbled that Colonel Don Christensen has decided to join Protect Our Defenders, to stand with survivors and help us end the epidemic of sexual assault in the military, and stop the retaliation against victims. Col Christensen has dedicated his life to the military, and his distinguished career speaks for itself. Prior to the Wilkerson case, Col Christensen was named the top litigator in the entire U.S Air Force in his Officer Performance Report (OPR). With over two decades of experience as a military prosecutor, defense attorney, and judge, Col Christensen knows the ins and outs of our military justice system. He has seen, up close and personal, the lack of justice victims too often receive in the military justice system, which puts a victim’s fate in the hands of the rapists’ boss rather than professional, legally trained experts.
“Col Christensen could have stayed in the military, instead, he has chosen to honor his family’s commitment to service, and fight to improve the military that he loves. Col Christensen’s focus will be to push to reform the Uniform Code of Military Justice by calling on the President and members of Congress to enact fundamental reform.”
Robert D. Shadley, Major General, U.S. Army (ret) and Protect Our Defenders’ Advisory Board Member who led the 1996 Aberdeen sexual assault scandal investigation released the following statement:
“I know Don Christensen and he is the perfect choice to lead Protect Our Defenders in the fight to eradicate sexual assaults from our armed forces. The prevalence of rape and sexual assault undermines military readiness and fixing this broken system will strengthen our military by improving unit cohesion and troop morale. Throughout his esteemed military career, protecting victims and seeking justice for survivors has always been Don’s top priority. I know how much love and respect Don has for the United States military, and there is no doubt in my mind that he will do everything he can to improve the institution that he served in for so long.”
As a first step in his new role, Col Christensen is looking to our Commander-in-Chief, President Obama, to take a stand for justice and to support fundamental reform. Last year the President told victims he has their back and will support them. Since issuing that statement, the American public has been shocked by countless military sexual assault scandals from an Associated Press investigation this past February that exposed rapists receiving no punishment and commanders failing to prosecute sexual assault cases at U.S. Military bases in Japan; up to and including recent scandals at Fort Leonard Wood, and the Air Force Academy. Protect Our Defenders calls on President Obama to make good on his commitment to victims and support an independent and impartial military justice system.
New York Times: The Military’s Rough Justice on Sexual Assault
[VIDEO] NBC News: Woman in Air Force sexual assault case speaks out
Associated Press: Documents reveal chaotic military sex-abuse record
St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Former drill sergeant found guilty in sexual misconduct case at Fort Leonard Wood
Colorado Springs Gazette: Report: West Point football team recruited high school athletes with booze, women
ABC News: Air Force Cadet’s Secret Story: I Blew the Whistle on Football Players and Sex Assaults
About Protect Our Defenders: Protect Our Defenders is a human rights organization. We seek to honor, support and give voice to the brave women and men in uniform who have been sexually assaulted while serving their country, and re-victimized by the military adjudication system – a system that often blames the victim and fails to prosecute the perpetrator. Learn more about Protect Our Defenders at www.protectourdefenders.com or on Facebook at http://facebook.com/ProtectOurDefenders or follow us on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ProtectRDfnders.
Protect Our Defenders partners with Attorney Susan Burke, Burke PLLC to advance lawsuits filed against the DoD and service academies for repeatedly ignoring rape, sexual assault and harassment, failing to prosecute perpetrators and retaliating against the victim.