My son Eric Thomas joined the Air Force Academy because he wanted to serve his country and use his life to do some good in the world. As a mother, I was worried, but I was so proud of his courage and his heart. I am still proud to be the mother of an Air Force Academy Cadet, but I am dismayed by the way they have treated my son recently. Eric has been expelled for alleged rule infractions that occurred in the course of his completing tasks assigned to him from the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI) with whom he was serving as a confidential informant assisting with the investigation of sexual assaults and felony drug violations. After being given many assurances that they would vouch for him if he got in trouble due to following their orders, Eric has been expelled for following those very orders. He was betrayed by an institution he loves, but all he wants is a chance to continue to serve in the Air Force. Please help him get that chance by signing our petition and sharing his story with your friends. Here is his full story:
During Eric’s sophomore year, a friend of his was sexually assaulted and the people who did it escaped without punishment because there wasn't enough evidence. Eric had previously been approached by the Office of Special Investigations about becoming a confidential informant (C.I.) to help prevent this kind of abuse, so when he saw this blatant injustice, he knew he had to do something to fix it. He decided to become a C.I. to help prevent sexual assault and drug abuse on campus, and over the next three years information he provided led to fifteen drug convictions and two sexual assault convictions. Despite a large problem with sexual assaults on campus, these were the first sexual assault convictions since 1997, and Eric was pivotal to them.
He was always torn about having to deceive his classmates, but he felt good about the impact his work was having and felt that it was more honorable and truer to the honor code to help prevent sexual assaults than to protect fellow students who were dishonoring the Air Force and ruining lives by their behavior. The OSI even told him explicitly that when you're working as a confidential informant, "There is no honor code." OSI ordered him to become friends with troublemakers who were suspected of dealing drugs or sexual assault. On many occasions, including the incident for which he was eventually expelled, OSI specifically commanded him to break the rules by going Over the Fence (OTF) and attending parties where illegal things were happening.
My son was ultimately expelled for demerits that he gained on one night during his Junior year. OSI suspected a student named Claxton of sexual assault and ordered Eric to follow him to a party. Later in the night, Eric and Claxton helped a girl who was drunk back to Eric’s room. Eric left briefly to contact his handler at the OSI about what he should do and go get the girls' fiancée, but came running back when someone told him that Claxton had locked the door to the room. Eric barged into the room and when he saw the girls' pants down and shirt off, he got into a fight with Claxton to stop the assault.
Eric’s superiors did not know that he was a confidential informant, and Eric was ordered by the OSI not to tell them. This had unfairly given Eric a reputation as a troublemaker over the years, when in fact the opposite was true. The fight that night, along with infractions for going over the fence, having a girl in his room, and not reporting underage alcohol consumption (although he actually did report it to his handler) gave him 309 demerits, and summary expulsion normally occurs at 200 demerits.
When it came time for a disciplinary board hearing to decide his fate, his OSI handler promised to be there to represent him and tell the committee that Eric was acting on OSI orders during the night in question. Shortly before the hearing, his handler reneged and said he wouldn’t be coming, and reminded Eric not to say anything about OSI. Eric didn’t say a word during the disciplinary hearing, still naively trusting that OSI was taking care of him behind the scenes. But when he was expelled just six weeks before he was supposed to graduate, he knew that they were stabbing him in the back. After repeated attempts communicating factual evidence to his chain of command and the Inspector General, he decided he needed to take his case to his congressional representatives, and later the media.
Eric’s story was originally told by the Colorado Springs Gazette and has since been picked up by the Denver Post, the Houston Chronicle, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Washington Post among others. You can check it out for yourself at http://www3.gazette.com/projects/project/usafa-informant-program/ for videos of me and Eric and more detailed information about Eric’s activities, the OSI, and evidence supporting Eric’s claims. For example, the OSI and Air Force originally denied that Eric ever worked for them as a confidential informant, but Freedom of Information Act Requests made by Congressman Randy Neugebauer have since proven that Eric was working for the OSI. There are also text message records between Eric and his handler, and other documentation as well. The Air Force has yet to respond to letters from Senator John Thune requesting a meeting for Eric.
Being a C.I. had a negative impact on my son even before his expulsion though. Due to the late nights and parties he was ordered to attend, his grades suffered during school, and he acquired an unfair and false reputation with his superiors and peers. I had raised him to respect and follow the law; I feel betrayed that at the Air Force Academy, my son was taught by federal agents how to roll a blunt and told to be secretive with the lawful authorities (his chain of command) set over him. As a mother, I could feel him pulling away and I knew something was wrong, but I didn't know what. I was shocked when he told me that he was a confidential informant last year, because the Air Force had never even mentioned that it was a possibility. It's lonely being a spy, and he was bound by a confidentality agreement with the OSI not to tell anyone. Eric held true to this and trusted OSI even when he was in serious trouble, and ultimately they threw him under the bus. This is why it is so important for the Air Force to reform the Confidential Informant program. Why are students with only minimal training being asked to live a lie? Couldn't professionals be brought in for this? At the very least, there needs to be regulation protecting the students who become C.I.'s., so that injustices like what happened to my son don’t ever happen again. There are already other former cadets who are coming forward with stories similar to my son, and it seems that many come from poor and minority backgrounds, making protections for these students even more important. Eric is still proud of the rapists and drug dealers he helped put behind bars, he just wants the confidential informant system to be regulated to prevent abuse and manipulation.
Despite all this, Eric still wants still to use his life to do good by serving his country through the Air Force. Before being expelled he had been scheduled for his post-graduation job: a slot at Pilot School. Please help us put pressure on the Air Force by signing this petition. Please ask the Air Force Academy to reform the Confidential Informant System and fulfill the promises they made to my son by reinstating him as a Cadet and giving him the commission he earned. Please sign our petition and share it with your friends so that my son can serve the country he loves. Thank you!
Rosita P. Walker