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Victim in AFA peeping case objects to light sentence under plea deal

January 11, 2018 Updated: January 12, 2018 at 10:08 am
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photo - Sammy Tawakkol. File photo.
Sammy Tawakkol. File photo. 

An Air Force Academy cadet will be reprimanded but won't serve any time in prison for taking illicit pictures of dozens of female classmates while he hid in women's restrooms.

Freshman cadet Sammy Tawakkol, 20, pleaded guilty Thursday to taking the pictures and defying an order to stay away from women's restrooms. His sentence was well-below the maximum five-year punishment under a plea deal approved by former academy boss Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson.

Prosecutors argued the sentence was fair because Tawakkol underwent six months of mental health treatment as part of the deal. They also noted that he already was locked up for three months after his 2017 arrest for another incident involving a women's restroom at Texas A&M University.

One of Tawakkol's victims, though, told judge Col. Donald Eller that academy leaders let him off too easy.

"By this logic, no criminals would go to jail," a sophomore woman who was among Tawakkol's victims told Eller.

The woman also complained that academy bosses kept Tawakkol's conduct secret for months after he was first caught in 2016.

"It was not until this appeared in the media that the cadet wing was notified," she said.

An academy spokesman said the delay in notifying cadets came after Tawakkol was temporarily suspended from the school. Leaders decided with Tawakkol away from the campus, there was no need to notify cadets until an investigation was completed.

The academy also said that three of four named victims in the case agreed with the freshman's sentence.

In pleading guilty, Tawakkol, a Rubik's Cube champion and Texas native, apologized for hiding in restrooms in the academy's massive academic building while waiting for unsuspecting women. He used a cellular phone to snap images that were later found by military police.

"I am so much better," Tawakkol told Eller. "I am no longer the person who committed those terrible acts."

Tawakkol's plea deal sent him to a "special court-martial," a court of limited jurisdiction that cannot impose prison sentences.

Eller, though, ordered that Tawakkol be restricted to an academy dorm room for two months and that two-thirds of his cadet pay be withheld - the maximum punishment under the deal.

"I just do what I think is right given the limited tools that are given to me," Eller said.

An academy spokesman said he will be booted from the military with an other-than-honorable discharge.

The academy's current leader, Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, had no power to change the deal approved by Johnson.

While the military will place him on a Pentagon list of sex-offenders, that won't follow Tawakkol to his home state.

Tawakkol's civilian defense attorney Jack Zimmerman, said "sex-offender registration isn't required in the state of Texas in this case."

But, Tawakkol's admission that he peeped on a woman in a restroom at the Texas university will follow him home. He was indicted in Texas last year and faces a February hearing in that case.

Prosecutor Capt. Wade Iverson argued that by making Tawakkol get mental health treatment, the academy achieved justice.

"Rehabilitating him protects society from this happening again," Iverson said.

Iverson also said Tawakkol has made an effort to make up for he did.

"He reached out," Iverson said. "He took responsibility for what he did."

Don Christensen, a retired Air Force prosecutor who now heads the group Protect Our Defenders, which advocates for military victims of sex crimes, traveled from Washington, D.C., to watch the court-martial.

"It's the worst plea deal I have ever seen," he said, noting that Tawakkol should have been sent to a general court-martial that could have given him months or years behind bars.

Zimmerman echoed the prosecutors.

"I don't know what else the man can do at this point," he said. "He apologized."

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