Beating pushed soldier to talk

Sgt. Darren Jones.
Sgt. Darren Jones.

The beating Spc. Justin Stoner took at the hands of seven platoon mates in May sealed his decision to talk with Army investigators about drug use and other possible illegal activity in their Stryker unit, he testified Wednesday.

Stoner said he believes his fellow Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers were trying to silence him after he asked for a transfer to another unit because he didn’t want to be held accountable for their misconduct during their deployment to southern Afghanistan.

“That was their way, but obviously it didn’t work too well,” he said while testifying in a Lewis-McChord courtroom at a pretrial hearing for one of his alleged attackers.

Sgt. Darren Jones, 29, of Pomona, Calif., is charged with assaulting Stoner, shooting at unarmed Afghans during a patrol, participating in a conspiracy to harm those noncombatants and trying to impede the Army’s investigation into Stoner’s complaints.

Prosecutors dropped a charge alleging Jones smoked hashish during his deployment.

Kevin McDermott, Jones’ attorney, argued that Jones was not part of conspiracies to obstruct the investigation into Stoner’s complaints or to hurt Afghan civilians. McDermott acknowledged that Jones was present at those incidents, though he disputed that Jones knew the noncombatants were not a threat to his squad.

Stoner’s complaints triggered an investigation that resulted in misconduct charges against Jones and 11 other members of the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. Five are accused of murdering Afghan civilians.

Stoner said Jones kicked and punched him at least six times May 5 when word got out that he had spoken with a sergeant in his company about his concerns that solders were smoking hashish in his room.

At least six soldiers who entered Stoner’s room that day assaulted him, he said. He remembered that Jones delivered blows to his left side. Stoner, who was a private at the time of the assault, said he distinctly heard Jones’ voice among the group of soldiers who were striking him.

“Everything that came out of his mouth was preaching about loyalty, and ‘how could you do this to the platoon?’” Stoner said.

Jones was in court Wednesday for a one-day Article 32 hearing that will help determine whether he is tried at a general court martial.

McDermott, Jones’ attorney, argued that his client should not be punished for his alleged role in assaulting Stoner in the Army’s highest court, the general court-martial.

Instead, McDermott said a lesser venue would be more appropriate.

“The evidence does not point to my client’s implication or role in conspiracies of any kind,” McDermott said in closing arguments.

Stoner fingered Jones as a member of a “clique” around Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs that effectively called the shots in their platoon at Forward Operating Base Ramrod. Gibbs now is accused of murdering three civilians, keeping war trophies and threatening Stoner.

Stoner apparently was on the outs with that group and was passed around among different squads until he was assigned to base security in March. “They didn’t like me personally,” he said.

It was “Sgt. Jones and the good ol’ boys clique,” Stoner said. “They were all with each other, and they made decisions that affected the platoon.”

Stoner sounded angry at times during his testimony, venting that images of his bruises from his May beating had appeared on CNN. He acknowledged that he had dark thoughts after the soldiers who assaulted him left his room.

“I was really, really heated at that point,” he said. “I kind of looked at my rifle and thought about” using it if he was assaulted again. “I wouldn’t do it, but if someone would’ve come back in, I probably would have.”

Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646