It’s often said that “time heals all wounds.” That may be true in many areas of life, but often not when it comes to sexual assault and rape. Nothing proved that more than the sex abuse scandal within the Roman Catholic church, which was finally forced to face justice (civil justice, at least,) for sexual abuse that it hid decades into the past.
Another example of how time doesn’t necessarily heal all wounds of this type became apparent yesterday, when Governor Deval Patrick‘s office announced the suspension of the head of the Massachusetts National Guard, over allegations that he raped a woman 28 years ago, in 1984. Joseph C. Carter, Adjutant General of the Massachusetts National Guard was placed on administrative leave with pay pending the investigation of allegations that he raped a female subordinate while he and the woman were on a training mission to Florida with a military police unit. Ironically, the woman’s allegations were investigated several months following the alleged sexual assault. The investigating officer at the time reportedly advised the victim, a Ms. Susan Pelletier, to report the matter to civilian police, but she declined out of fear of retaliation by Carter, she says. Instead of reporting the allegations to civilian police, she has stated that she requested a transfer to a different unit, and, when her request was rejected, she said she stopped reporting for duty. Consequently, she says, she was dishonorably discharged from the National Guard, at age 23. This is where the plot thickens.
Pelletier says that she changed her mind about the Guard several months later, and asked to be reinstated, citing the alleged attack as the reason she went AWOL. This prompted Guard officials to launch an investigation, and a Guard lawyer by the name of Lt. Colonel Mark Murray was assigned to investigate. After investigation, Murray reportedly advised Pelletier to report the allegations to civilian police. She declined due to the fear of retaliation she said she felt from Carter. The matter seemed to die a natural death (or death by inattention.)
Fast forward 26 years to 2010. A major falling out seemed to occur between Carter, who at that point had risen to the rank of commander of the Guard in Massachusetts, and Murray, who held the position of quartermaster, responsible for the Guard’s armories and property. In 2010, Carter sought to have Murray fired, accusing him of a variety of offenses, including misusing federal funds and hiring a convicted felon to do legal work. At Murray’s court-martial, he testified about the Massachusetts rape allegations against Carter that he had investigated back in 1984, saying that Carter was essentially seeking revenge for Murray’s investigation of him back then. Ultimately, Murray was cleared of all charges leveled by Carter, and Murray remains quartermaster of the Guard.
But that testimony caused the Guard to re-open its investigation of Carter when his promotion came up for review, and Pelletier was contacted by Army investigators late in 2011, to discuss her allegations first made over a quarter-century ago. Pelletier says she was shocked when contacted after all this time.
So now, Massachusetts rape allegations that are almost 30 years old are front and center again, and a high-level general in the Massachusetts National Guard could see his future ruined, as well as his entire career, because of allegations of rape. Carter, age 56, has had a noteworthy career in law enforcement before Patrick selected him to be the first African-American commander of the National Guard in its 370-year history. Carter was also the youngest member of the command staff in the history of the Boston police, and before that he was the MBTA Transit Police Chief for four years. He had also been the chief of police in the town of Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard.
As a Dedham, Massachusetts sex crimes defense lawyer, I’ve seen allegations of rape and sexual abuse ruin people’s lives. The mere accusation is enough to tarnish one’s name permanently. We’ll have to see how this pans out from the investigatory stage, but it will bear watching. As of yet, U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, who is a colonel in the National Guard and was a member of the Massachusetts National Guard for almost 30 years, has remained understandably silent on this issue, though I don’t think I’m going out on a limb in saying that he’s likely troubled by the accusations.