March 31, 2005
DENVER — A therapist at a rape crisis center that counseled female cadets who were allegedly sexually assaulted at the Air Force Academy said she’s prepared to go to jail rather than turn over client records subpoenaed as part of a court martial for one of the accused.
Jennifer Bier said the subpoena was part of the court martial for 2nd Lt. Joseph Harding who faces charges at Randolph Air Force Base near San Antonio, Texas, for alleged attacks on two women at the academy in 1999 and 2000. “To turn them over would be to violate my code of ethics,” Bier told The Denver Post on Wednesday. “There’s a bigger picture here. I have counseled hundreds and hundreds of women, and their voices are ringing in my ears. This is their worst fear.” Bier rejected the Air Force request, citing Colorado law that shields discussions between mental-health providers and their patients from any public airing, even court-ordered reviews. However, base officials have threatened to have federal marshals take her to Texas for a hearing. “Using the federal marshals is on the extreme side,” said Capt. Charles Warren, an assistant prosecutor at Randolph. “But we all have to work within the process.” Her move is being applauded by Colorado victim-rights groups who say therapists have legal and moral obligations to treat their discussions with clients as sacred. Public disclosure would frighten other victims and perhaps keep them from coming forward, said Cynthia Stone, spokeswoman for the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Bier has counseled more than 50 cadets since the early 1990s, including Jessica Brakey, one of the two women accusing Harding of sexual assault. Bier said she has prepared her family for the possibility that she may go to jail. “I talked to my daughter about this last night, and she was very impassioned by this,” Bier said. “She said, absolutely, for me to do what I need to do to stand up for these women. “She said it with this sweet little face, and I knew I was doing the right thing.” The formal charges against Harding came after Air Force officials reviewed a report from an Article 32 hearing, the civilian equivalent of a preliminary hearing, in May, June and July. The academy was plunged into scandal in 2003, prompting several investigations and the ouster of the school’s top commanders after dozens of female cadets complained of being ignored or punished for reporting sexual assaults.