Is he a rapist or a pawn in a military game to discredit the Air Force Academy sex scandal? For the first time, Douglas Meester answers the charges.
Douglas Meester takes a seat on the couch inside his father's Florida home. In his academy head shot, the one that has accompanied countless newspaper stories about the case, Meester appears ramrod straight in his dress blues, smiling the smile of young flyboy on an autopilot course to success. Seeing the photo, you might peg him as a tall, strapping guy. But on this August afternoon, two months after Weida ordered his court-martial, Meester barely resembles that cadet. He is of average height, thin, and gangling. His face and physique are all straight lines and right angles, except for his slumped shoulders. Perched on the edge of the couch, he nervously rubs his knees and his eyes flit about. This is the first time Meester has talked with a journalist, and thus far the press has skewered him.
Meester, like Woods, left the academy after the semester of the incident, and he has since followed the media coverage of his case. He read Jim Spencer's Denver Post column in which Meester was compared to a necrophiliac. He's watched television pundits speculate about what they think he did or should have done on that drunken night. He even saw the Senate subcommittee hearings on C-SPAN, and heard politicians presume him guilty. "To smear my name in the media simply because of allegations, I think is ridiculous," Meester says. "It's absurd. The academy, the press, I think the rush to condemn me is a result of the scandal."
The now infamous Air Force Academy scandal began last January, just four months after Woods filed her report with OSI, when several former female cadets first told Westword's Julie Jargon and shortly thereafter told 7 News (KMGH-TV) reporter John Ferrugia that they had been raped by male cadets. What's more, they claimed that when they took their charges to the academy's chain of command, the women were blamed, punished, and informed their military careers would be ruined unless they dropped the accusations, while their alleged rapists received administrative slaps on the wrist.
The story quickly commanded national headlines. In response, academy officials publicly insisted that the school had "zero tolerance" for sexual assault, and by way of proof it released statistics claiming that since 1990 it had investigated 56 reports of sexual assault and disciplined 20 male cadets. But of those cases, only one - a 1998 incident involving a civilian and a cadet - resulted in a rape conviction. The rest were reduced to lesser charges, and in most cases resulted in punishments as insignificant as disciplinary demerits (or "hits," as they are known in cadet lingo). When pressed, the academy was forced to admit that it had never prosecuted a case of cadet-on-cadet rape.
In fact, the school's second highest-ranking officer seemed downright unsympathetic to the charges being made by its female students. Asked to comment on the case of a cadet who claimed she'd been raped by another cadet at an off-campus party, Brig. Gen. Taco Gilbert issued a statement: "When you put yourself in situations with increased risk, you have to take increased precautions to mitigate those risks. For example, if I walk down a dark alley with hundred-dollar bills hanging from my pockets, it doesn't justify my being attacked or robbed, but I certainly increased my risks by doing what I did."
In the midst of the ensuing media frenzy, Air Force Secretary James Roche relieved the academy's top four officials from duty, including Gilbert and the academy's superintendent, Gen. James Dallagher. Roche also dispatched a task force to Colorado Springs to investigate. The team was on campus for 10 days and left without interviewing any alleged victims. Critics called Roche's actions a sham.