Attorneys for a former Air Force Academy football player facing cocaine charges told the officer overseeing a preliminary hearing Wednesday that prosecutors don’t have enough evidence to convict cadet Kyler Ehm.
That claim was disputed by prosecutors, who said witnesses will corroborate Ehm’s drug use.
“We have consistent facts from several witnesses who attest to cadet Ehm’s drug use,” said Capt. Kimberly Signer, the lead prosecutor in the case. “This case involves multiple cases of drug use by cadet Ehm at various locations spanning the course of two years.”
Ehm is the third Falcons football player to face cocaine charges in recent weeks. He was charged with four counts of cocaine use after other cadets accused the defensive lineman of using cocaine and at least one witness got a reduced sentence on their own drug charges. The government’s star witness is former Falcons fullback Cole Fagan, who last month pleaded guilty to cocaine use and got a 15-day sentence at a court-martial where he faced a maximum prison term of five years.
Civilian defense attorney Ernesto Gapasin argued that Ehm was a victim of testimony offered by witnesses desperate to give prosecutors damning information on others in exchange for plea deals.
“You wouldn’t find a single witness out there who would say Kyler Ehm is anything but a good-natured young man,” Gapasin said.
Another witness in the Ehm case is former Air Force football recruit Ethan Walton, who was convicted of cocaine use and lying to authorities last year, landing him 30 days in jail. Also giving information against Ehm is cadet Harry Vaughn, who is facing court-martial this month on cocaine distribution and use charges.
Cocaine was a popular drug in the 1970s and ’80s, but has largely been displaced by cheaper illicit products, including methamphetamine. But at the Air Force Academy, the euphoria-inducing drug has been tied to five cadets in the past year, including four with football ties.
As charges against cadets pile up, the academy says it is reinforcing the school’s anti-drug messages.
“The academy does not tolerate the wrongful use of drugs by its personnel and we will unapologetically continue to hold all cadets appropriately accountable under Air Force policy and the law,” Air Force Academy spokeswoman Lt. Col. Tracy Bunko said in an email.
“We are very transparent in this process, including opening our court proceedings to the public, so yes, as we’ve all seen in recent court proceedings, we have instances of illegal drug use by former members of the football team. These cadets were immediately removed from the team when the allegations surfaced and those found guilty have and will continue to be punished.”
While the school’s football coach, Troy Calhoun, dodged questions on the team’s cocaine use during a testy Tuesday news conference, the Athletic Department on Wednesday said it has worked to stamp out off-field misconduct.
“The Athletic Department has implemented several programs in recent years to address culture and misconduct,” athletics Executive Director Jennifer Block said in an email. “We now have an anonymous end-of-season survey that allows all athletes to report on the culture of the team, areas to improve or concerns that they might have.”
Seniors Ehm, Fagan and running back Joseph Saucier were expected to be pillars of the 2019 football team but were booted from the squad amid cocaine allegations.
Saucier was sentenced to three months behind bars as part of a plea deal this month.
Capt. Alexis Sellars, a hearing officer, will issue a written recommendation to academy leaders on whether Ehm should be court-martialed. While Sellars’ opinion isn’t binding, she can select from a wide range of recommendations, from dropping the case to full court-martial and options in between including administrative punishments.
Block said the school’s athletes have been amply warned that drug use brings stiff consequences.
“Our standards of conduct are definitively outlined by the coaches and the superintendent at the beginning of the academic year,” she said.
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240 Twitter: @xroederx