Michael McClendon, West Point sergeant, secretly filmed female cadets, 15-month Army probe finds

Cadets of The United States Military Academy prepare Cadets of The United States Military Academy prepare to take their seats for a graduation and commissioning ceremony at West Point. (May 26, 2012) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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A West Point sergeant who served as an adviser to cadets has been accused of filming and photographing female cadets showering without their consent, the military academy said Wednesday.

Sgt. 1st Class Michael McClendon secretly filmed and photographed "at least a dozen" female cadets, George Wright, deputy director of media relations for the Army, told Newsday on Wednesday.

"The photographs included images of cadets in various stages of undress, contrary to any reasonable expectation of privacy," according to a charge sheet from the Army, which lists the allegations against McClendon.

The investigation into McClendon, a 23-year military veteran who began serving at West Point in 2009, started in March 2012. On May 17, 2012, Wright said, McClendon was pulled from his job at West Point, where he led a company of 121 cadets, and placed on administrative duty.

"He was given a no-contact-with-cadets order, and he was barred from entering the cadet area," said Wright, adding that McClendon was "given administrative duties as the investigation continues.

On March 14, McClendon was transferred to Fort Drum in Jefferson County, and on May 14 he was formally charged under military law, officials said. The yearlong lag between the start of the probe and official charges was attributed to the seriousness of the allegations, and the fact that military investigators seized McClendon's computer as they looked for evidence against the sergeant, Wright said.

"The timing of the public reporting on this matter was due to the collection of computer forensic evidence, identification of potential victims and the adherence to due-process protocol," Wright said. "Sometimes these matters are so important that the right amount of time needs to be given to them."

News of the allegations against McClendon comes as federal lawmakers hold hearings about sexual harassment in the ranks of the military. A Pentagon report released earlier this month said an estimated 26,000 troops were subject to "unwanted sexual contact" in 2012, a 30 percent rise from the previous year. That number was compiled from a survey, and while the actual reported number of sexual assaults in the military is much lower, advocates and lawmakers say they believe service members who are victims of sexual assault or harassment are reluctant to come forward.

"The Army is committed to ensuring the safety and welfare of our cadets at the Military Academy at West Point -- as well as all soldiers throughout our Army," said Gen. John F. Campbell, vice chief of staff for the Army. "Once notified of the violation, a full investigation was launched followed by swift action to correct the problem. Our cadets must be confident that issues such as these are handled quickly and decisively, and that our system will hold those responsible accountable."

Since the allegations became public, several reports have indicated that at least some of the still images or videos were taken with the consent of cadets, but officials said that information did not come from the military, and said they were unable to confirm any of the images were consensual.

McClendon is a decorated combat engineer who has served in Iraq and earned a Bronze Star Medal, in addition to other citations, according to the military. He enlisted in 1990 and was posted to Army bases in Germany, as well as Fort Campbell, Ky., and Fort Hood, Texas, the military said.

At Fort Drum, he's "currently performing duties at the direction of his local command" and is not imprisoned, Wright said. Before a hearing that determines whether the case will go to trial in a military court, investigators say they've turned their focus toward supporting the victims.

"The Criminal Investigation Division of the United States Army is contacting individuals who may have information relevant to the allegations in this case, as well as notifying everyone involved," a statement said. "Throughout this notification process, the Army will protect the privacy of the individuals involved, as well as offer support services as required."

The charges against McClendon are crimes according to military law and include dereliction of duty, cruelty and maltreatment, and conduct that is prejudicial to good order and discipline, according to the military.

The next step is an Article 32 hearing, in which a commissioned officer will determine if there is significant evidence against McClendon for a military trial, similar to the civilian process of a grand jury. The officer in charge of the hearing will make a recommendation to his or her superior officers, who ultimately would decide if the case will go to trial. There is no set timetable for the hearings, which typically take at least several weeks, Wright said.

If convicted, McClendon could be dishonorably discharged and forced to forfeit pay and allowances. The two most serious charges -- indecent act and "conduct that is prejudicial to good order and discipline in the armed forces" -- each carries a maximum penalty of up to 5 years' confinement, while the maximum penalty for the cruelty charge is a year in confinement, and 2 years in confinement for the dereliction-of-duty charge.

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