Here is Washington Post coverage (alternate link) of an $8.5 million jury award in a defamation case brought by retired Army Col. David Riggins against Susan Shannon who, in 2013, alleged that Riggins raped her in 1986 when they were both cadets at the United States Military Academy (West Point). The allegation was investigated by Army CID, and Riggins was subsequently removed from the promotion list for brigadier general.

After Shannon made her claim, Riggins told investigators that he had a consensual sexual relationship with her while at the Academy but he denied assaulting her:

The CID also contacted Riggins. A report in court records shows that Riggins described a consensual sexual encounter with Shannon after a Halloween party in 1983, and a short relationship with an amicable breakup. Riggins said he had no significant contact with her in 1986. In Washington state, Shannon told investigators there was no sex or relationship in 1983, only a rape after Riggins saw her staggering out of a pedestrian tunnel on campus in the spring of 1986. She claimed Riggins offered her a ride in his car, and that she had no memory of the actual assault, although she said Riggins “smugly admitted he did indeed rape” Shannon, according to a Fairfax court filing.

Riggins sued Shannon in Virginia, asserting:

that every aspect of her rape claim on the West Point campus was “provably false,” and that she wrote two blog posts and a Facebook post “to intentionally derail [his] promotion” to brigadier general. During a six-day trial that ended Aug. 1, a jury in Fairfax County, Va., heard from both Riggins and Shannon at length. And after 2½ hours of deliberation, they sided emphatically with Riggins, awarding him $8.4 million in damages, an extraordinary amount for a defamation case between two private citizens. The jury ordered Shannon to pay $3.4 million in compensatory damages for injury to his reputation and lost wages, and $5 million in punitive damages, “to make sure nothing like this will ever happen again,” according to one of the jurors.

A juror told the Post:

“Honestly,” said juror Marshall Reinsdorf, “we thought who was telling the truth was too obvious to be discussing. We held a vote, and everybody believed the colonel. The only argument was how big the damages were going to be.” Of the four women and three men on the jury, two other jurors declined to comment, two jurors did not return messages and two could not be reached.

41 Responses to “Retired Army Colonel wins huge defamation award based on an allegation that he committed an in-service sexual assault”

  1. Litig8r says:

    Is any of that judgment collectible or is it suitable for framing only???  B/c if she’s judgment proof, this guy is still getting screwed.

  2. Former DC says:

    Wow.  Justice.  I like it.
    @Litig8r: Sounds like to me that this was a “principle of the matter” case from the Plaintiff’s point of view. That said, as we all know, a successful plaintiff who wants to make a judgment defendant/debtor’s life a living hell can do so. Exhibit A: Goldman v. Simpson.

  3. K fischer says:

    If she retired from the military, then couldn’t her retired pay be garnished?  Oh wait.  The VA probably would give her 100 percent disability for MST.
    I like the juror’s comment about how obvious who was telling the truth and that any discussion was needless.  I had an acquittal where a panel member made a similar comment.  Also, notice the gender make up of the panel.  Not all women buy into the propaganda put out by the stakeholders in the sexual grievance industry.

  4. Lone Bear says:

    This story makes me so happy.  Waiting for a response from the “sexual grievance industry.”

  5. stewie says:

    I’m going to assume my last response here was glitched and not intentionally deleted?
    I noted that she was, based on her blog, a right wing crazy and ultra religious Christian who thinks the “Solar System points towards God.”  Thus, that level of crazy doesn’t do well when given an extended opportunity to talk, under oath.

  6. Defense Wizard says:

    Can he collect on the judgment – Intentional torts are no discharged in bankruptcy, so yes, but it’s going to be a dollar a day for the rest of her life. I suspect that at some point, the cost of collection will run more than amount collected.

  7. k fischer says:

    Lone Bear,
    The Sexual Grievance Industry mouthpieces will lament how the verdict will discourage victims from coming forward. will post an article from some man hating feminazi that accuses the four women on the jury of treason.   Those who believe civilian juries will lead to more convictions will change their view and demand that military panels be made up of Title IX administrators who, after attending a 20-hour course put on by Aequitas, understand counterintuitive victim behavior and why believing the victim, aka the complaining witness by those who are more objective, is so important. 
    And last, but not least, I will post on, seeing how defense attorneys are also a component of the Sexual Grievance Industry, although sometimes I feel like Vigil Earp trying to make money of’n it like some dang vulture.

  8. Emmanuel Goldstein says:

    K fischer- how much would you like to bet that she’s a guest of the Senate at the next State of the Union . . .?

  9. A Survivor says:

    What a terrible tragedy all the way around.

  10. Ed says:

    A Survivor The real tragedy is that the Secretary of the Army was so weak-minded. 

  11. DCGoneGalt says:

    “We thought who was telling the truth was too obvious to be discussing.” (The accused was telling the truth.)
    Been there myself in more than a few cases . . . that were promptly referred to trial.

  12. k fischer says:

    A Survivor,
    “A terrible tragedy all the way around” infers that the person who was found to be responsible suffered some sort of adverse conesquence for which she was not responsible.  That’s like saying Community Loans of America suffered a tragedy when they had to pay $4 million for charging Servicemembers in Alabama and Georgia upwards of 152% interest on Title loans.  I don’t feel real sorry for them, just like I don’t feel so sorry for her.
    Overall, this case is a reminder that there are good reasons to consider filing a civil lawsuit.  In addition to regaining the power you lose from being falsely accused, you can depose the complaining witness before trial and perhaps avoid a trial by showing the government how insane the complaining witness is.  Of course, when dealing with an SVP, TC, SJA, or TJAG who is stuck on stupid and more concerned about appearing tough on sexual assault, like DCCG and I (and probably hundreds of other defense counsel over the past 10 years) have, this will accomplish little.  Nonetheless, there are military attorneys for the Government who will drop a crappy case when the evidence strongly suggests that your client is innocent.
    The changing of the Article 32 rules regarding complaining witness testimony, and providing alleged vics with military attorneys preventing the Accused’s counsel from interviewing them about the allegations should make a falsely accused person strongly consider hiring a civilian defense counsel to sue the false accuser at least so he can depose her   Also, it doesn’t need to be a defamation suit.   I entered an appearance in my client’s divorce and deposed his wife about her false allegations she made the day after she was served with the divorce.  Of course, your client could be deposed, which is a consideration, but if he is innocent, then it is pretty difficult to impeach him. 

  13. DCGoneGalt says:

    “Stuck on stupid” assumes they are making a decision based on law and facts but are stupid in that they are exercising poor judgment.  It is a conclusion that I wouldn’t reach because I think the decisions are more often not based on law and facts but instead based on politics, careerism, and an abdication of professional responsibility by laying down and saying “it’s going to trial anyway so just let the members (or judge) decide.  And if that’s the case, then why bother with JAG pre-trial advice?  Just let the commanders decide and the JAG advise whether the command decision is lawful.
    I had one case where I badly wanted a civil suit filed prior to trial.  Not O-7 promotable level but a case that eventually went to trial that I would bet that every JAG and commander involved knew the guy was not guilty but just pushed it forward anyway no matter how embarrassing the facts got for the government.  Alas, what I want and what happens seldom match up.

  14. k fischer says:

    Feel free to pick one, or come up with one:
    1.  Stuck on cowardice.
    2.  Stuck on taking the easy wrong over the hard right.
    3.  Stuck on hypocrisy because if you were sitting in the Accused chair you would be losing your mind.
    4.  Stuck on self-interest.

  15. A Survivor says:

    K fisher,
    Or, maybe they are “stuck on letting the system decide whether a heinous offense has occurred.”  Just as there have been some false accusations, there have been plenty of sex offenders who got away with it.  Your defense colored glasses taint your view.

  16. Stuck on "Getting Tough" on Sexual Assault says:

    It’s revealing to look at the number of cases declined by civilian prosecutors and then picked up by the military.  Presumably most civilian prosecutors are competent, ethical lawyers who evaluate cases using logical criteria.  There’s a stereotype that civilian prosecutors want to defend their win record and therefore only take strong cases.  I have not seen this in my experience – most civilian prosecutors I’ve worked with are fairly aggressive and quite willing to take tough cases.  But they do not have the same political pressure to “get tough” on this certain area of crime so they have the option to decline weak cases.

  17. k fischer says:

    Settle down, Francis.  I’m not talking about she said/he said cases with no physical evidence or witnesses with no major contradictions where the credibility of the witnesses and their testimony are paramount.
    I’m talking about cases where the only explanation for the case being referred is that the Convening Authority:
    1.  Did not review the file before referring the clearly false charges, which makes him ignorant;
    2.  Reviewed the file before referring the clearly false charges and believed every word the alleged vic said in light of all the exculpatory evidence, which makes stupid; or,
    3.  Reviewed the file before referring the clearly false charges, and did not believe the alleged vic, which makes him a coward.
    I’m not talking about Taylor Swift (I know it was a civil case); I’m talking about cases where Mike Nifong would be like “That girl’s lying!”
    If you want to make sure that sex offenders don’t get away with sexual assault, then you need to charge them with a crime and refer those cases.   If you don’t, then you that’s also cowardice.  It would also help if some of these survivors would step up and report the crime or agree to cooperate with the prosecution. 
    Referring cases against clearly innocent men because you are worried about your career, or ruining a man’s career because of a woman who is clearly lying because you want to look like you are tough on sexual assault actually does nothing to actual sex offenders who get away with it.  In fact, this hurts real victims particularly in the military where the SVP has to go in front of the same panel on the next case.  That’s the thing that Senators Claire McCaskill and Kirsten Gillibrand just don’t get.  When I get such a case, I want to go panel, so I can “bust” the panel.  I want to ruin their perception of the SVP’s credibility. I show them how ridiculous the SVP is and how they are the only thing stopping an innocent man from going to jail.  And, I take great pleasure in punishing the false accuser during cross examination.  What’s amazing is that they don’t know how stupid and crazy they sound.  They tell defense attorneys to never ask open ended or “Why” questions.  With false accusers, I ask all kinds of open ended questions. I want her to talk because the more she talks the more she comes up with new absurd stuff that the SVP has to explain away during the closing, which makes the SVP sound absurd.  The next time the SVP goes in front of the panel, they don’t have the presumption of credibility and that is bad for real victims. 

  18. A Survivor says:

    K fisher, now you are victim bashing.  Nice.  Must be glorious to be omniscient and only represent “innocent” clients.  You might want to lay off the defense kool-aid for a while…

  19. Stuck on a Feeling says:

    It is not “victim bashing” when the accuser is making a false accusation.  There is no victim.  Or, there are victims who are not the accuser: the accused who has his career/life ruined regardless of the verdict – the real victim who is viewed skeptically in the next case because of the lies of the accuser in the prior case – the tax payer who will fund the accuser’s disability pension for life even though she was clearly lying.

  20. k fischer says:

    Thanks.  I don’t know if I would call it glorious, but it is much easier representing those who I believe to be innocent and actually the victims of false allegations.  And, I only take one or two cases a year, probably because I am quite honest with those who call me as a potential client.  My experience as a trial counsel has afforded me an objective perspective that cuts through those defense colored glasses I wear.
    As far as “victim bashing” goes, you do realize that if a woman falsely accuses a Serviceman of rape, then the actual victim is the falsely accused Serviceman, don’t you?  

  21. TC says:

    K fischer,
    I assume what Survivor was referring to was your statement “It would also help if some of these survivors would step up and report the crime or agree to cooperate with the prosecution.”  I’m not sure I’d go so far as to call that victim bashing, but it’s certainly an incredibly unsympathetic view that ignores the reality of how difficult the process can be for victims.  What with defense counsel who “take great pleasure in punishing the false accuser during cross examination.”  That’s all well and good when the accusation truly is false (and it’s not always so easy to tell), but there are plenty of DC who see it as their ethical responsibility to do that in every case.  While one can argue about whether such cross-examinations are necessary in every case, it certainly makes a victim’s decision not to proceed understandable. 

  22. Charlie Gittins says:

    “an incredibly unsympathetic view that ignores the reality of how difficult the process can be for victims.”  TC, this is the 21st Century.  Women have been granted equal rights; those who can qualify for pilot, SEALS, Rangers, Marine Infantry, and do so are expected to be just as tough as their male counter-parts.  For that matter, it is expected that the females in the non-combat MOSs will be equally as competent, professional and tough as their male counterparts.  Women are expected to perform equally in their duty performance (if not PT standards) as the men.  If you are a “victim” — male or female you have a responsibility to the organization, to the chain of command and to your own self-respect to report it.  The day of “women with petite snowflake sensibilities” in the military is long past over.  If you are serving and you have been victimized you have a duty to report — I mean this is codified in US Navy Regulations at least for the sea services.  If you don’t do your duty under Navy Regulations, there is a way out — ad sep.

  23. K fischer says:

    I think Survivor was saying that I am unable to really tell if the complaining witness is lying, so I am probably engaging in victim bashing because there is no way for me to actually know that the alleged victim is lying because I wasn’t there.  You have to read the entire paragraph in context.
    Stating that victims should step up and cooperate or report crimes merely acknowledges that when they do not, then sex offenders get away with it.  And, if they aren’t going to cooperate, then a case that fails to get referred is not the SVP, SJA, or the GCMCA’s fault and they are not cowards for failing to have the case referred.  Once again, when reading the entire paragraph in context, I was detracting blame from the Government for not having charges referred where the vic was not cooperative, rather than victim bashing.
    I know it’s tough being a victim and going through the process.  But, doing nothing and having the abuser do something to you again or someone else in the future is probably even tougher.  I might sound incredibly unsympathetic, but it is the harsh reality.

  24. TC says:

    First, I never said anything about women, but read my comment however you like.  But your idea that victims who fail to report should be separated is disgraceful.

  25. DCGoneGalt says:

    Ad sep for not reporting seems a bad idea.  However, can’t disciplinary action be taken against members for not reporting other crimes?  I am sure it is usually only enforced against non-victims (i.e. someone saw a theft, drug use, passenger in a DUI) but that makes it a bad idea . . . not a legal prohibition unless otherwise mentioned in law.  There is a prohibition against retaliation for reporting an assault but does the prohibition apply to someone taking action against a non-reporter when the crime is discovered through some means other than a victim report?  (I can’t envision this happening but think it’s an interesting question.)  However, ad sep aside, I think there are legitimate issues on other collateral matters involving not reporting an assault.  For instance, IMO, it is a bad idea to grant voluntary national security clearance waivers for disclosure of mental health treatment related to a sexual assault.  If the issue is “can this person do their job in the military?” and they can do it then it is up to them to make the choice to report.  However, if the question is whether mental health issues are relevant to national security clearances then there should not be a special exception for sexual assault victims.  And I fully understand that this could result in the loss of a clearance (or clearance level) that could result in the person being unable to do their job.
    TC:  Cross examination is required of every testifying victim of every crime.  If someone does not want to be cross-examined then they can refuse to cooperate with the trial process.  In the military, you can report a crime, cooperate with the investigation, and receive counseling and health care, and then refuse to cooperate with a judicial action if you do not wish to be cross-examined (and still almost guarantee some sort disciplinary/admin action against the perp).  It is understandable that cross-exam may be a negative factor in some victims calculation whether to participate in the court process.  However, someone is to be held accountable in the justice system then victims (and all other witnesses) are subject to cross-examination, with the various limitations placed within the MRE in the past ~ 8 years.  A complete cross is the ethical responsibility of every defense counsel in every case.  If a defense counsel can’t handle that obligation or doesn’t wish to handle it, then they should do something else with their time. 

  26. A Survivor says:

    K fissure doubling down with another person coming off the top rope with the “we’ll just ad sep ’em if they don’t report” angle.  Charming.

  27. k fischer says:

    Somebody is mixing blackjack metaphors with wrestling metaphors, on the day after Ric Flair was put into a medically induced coma, no less.  Woooo soon, A Survivor……Woooooo soon.

  28. TC says:

    I agree with everything you said, although I think it is not always necessary for DC to tear a victim apart.  If defense truly believes the victim is lying, so be it.  But in reality, most cases come down to more complex issues, often about an individual’s capacity to consent, and sometimes a less severe cross can be more effective.  My point was just that since defense counsel must cross-examine victims, and often do so harshly, I understand why victims may decline to participate.  And there are also countless other realistic and legitimate reasons why a victim may elect not to come forward at all, or to decline to participate after reporting.  To suggest that victims owe it to the military to come forward (as Charlie did) is offensive.

  29. Ed says:

    Mr. Gittins is correct. If a victim does not report others are potentially exposed to the perpetrator endangering the  unit. Just remember the mission, It is not playing croquet. Any branch of service cannot afford having legitimate victims not exposing dangerous criminals.

  30. K fischer says:

    Ad seps for not reporting rapists to law enforcement and restricted reporting cannot coexist.  

  31. Former DC says:

    Maybe not as you phrase it, but (despite me agreeing with the rest over your overall commentary), I respectfully suggest you have the zoom lens in slightly too far. The regulation requires a report, not an unrestricted one. A restricted report (as I understand it) meets the requirement of the regulation, as it is an official report, through a special channel. But – if the alleged victim makes NO report, which is what appears to have happened in the underlying case, then the same response seems appropriate for the violation of any other lawful general order. I have long held the belief that if the law is to mean anything, then everyone, regardless of rank, position, immutable characteristic (i.e., race, sex, etc.), or situational characteristic (e.g., victim-status), must be subject to the law equally.

  32. Charlie Gittins says:

    Former DC:  You make the point far more eloquently than I. 

  33. stewie says:

    Former DC.
    1. Rarely is “everyone…subject to the law equally.” We make exceptions all of the time, for good reason. We except folks from killing other folks because of exceptions (self-defense, defense of others, lack of mental responsibility). We except folks from certain defenses that others kid (no mistake of fact as to age if under 12). We make allowances for age, prior good acts, remorse, and other things in sentencing.
    2. Justice doesn’t require a formulaic treat everyone exactly the same. Fair does not mean equal. We make exceptions, sometimes for bad reasons, sometimes for good reasons.
    So, instead of the very black/white everyone must be treated exactly the same no matter what argument, which isn’t true in theory or practice…what instead is served by forcing alleged victims to report? Whether restricted or unrestricted?
    How would you effectuate such a requirement? How would you know? What if she denies it? How would you know she was lying? Would you actually investigate the non-report of a sexual assault by someone who says they weren’t sexually assaulted? Or someone who refuses to speak (because failure to report is a crime, and thus wouldn’t they have fifth amendment rights to not incriminate themselves?)?
    With all due respect, it’s at best silly.
    And what does an unrestricted report accomplish with regard to the intent of the rule to report crimes? Others are still “exposed” because the accused is not identified, so the unit reaps no benefit from it.  Only the alleged victim does.

  34. Former DC says:

    Exceptions built into the law are one thing. Exceptions that come from “it doesn’t seem right to me” is one step from tyranny, and make a mockery of the law, and thus, makes us a lawyers the shysters people sometimes claim us to be. I cannot support that. The law applies equally to all, or to none.
    How to effectuate? Simple. The same way we do with everything else. We make no special effort to seek out this information, but when it comes to the CO’s attention, if a report has not been made, we inquire. Usually, there is some corroborating evidence.  The CO takes action based on what the investigation finds. There is ample case law to defeat the 5th Amendment argument.
    I do not follow your last paragraph. It seems to be a policy argument disconnected from the law.
    I think this discussion has run its course, and will step aside. I leave you the last word.

  35. k fischer says:

    Former DC/CG,
    If the purpose of reporting a crime is to protect society from that person committing future crimes against future victims, then restricted reporting does not satisfy that end.  If it is to rid the military of the scourge of criminal wrongdoing, then restricted reporting does not effectuate that end.
    I’m not disagreeing with CG’s point.  I think he makes a great point, and he is far wiser than I am.  I certainly don’t think his position is offensive or disgraceful.  
    But, I also understand that being a rape victim is tough and there are good reasons for unrestricted reporting.  What I am saying, however, is that it is difficult to reconcile making not reporting a crime a crime along with the policy behind it and allowing a rape victim to file an unrestricted report. 

  36. stewie says:

    One step from tyranny? Hyperbole is rarely an effective tactic of persuasion.
    The law does not need to apply “equally to all.” There are all sorts of reasons why the law in fact should not apply equally in all situations. If ANYONE should know and recognize this, it should be an attorney.
    There is often NOT corroborating evidence in alleged sexual assault cases. If there were, they’d be a lot easier to prosecute and defend.
    What if the “corroborating evidence” is…she looked incapacitated, but she was ok with it anyways?
    I’m unclear as to what your confusion is on my last paragraph. Your whole concern is applying the law equally. The law concerned here is that which requires Soldiers to report crimes. Ostensibly the reason behind such a law/rule is to identify criminal actors and hold them accountable. You do not accomplish that via restricted reporting. Or pretty much kf’s last paragraph.
    And no, CG is not making a great point. It’s more of a haha you women’s libbers reap what you sew point.

  37. k fischer says:

    ***sow (unless you are reeping [ripping] hemlines)
    And the point he makes is not about throwing it into the “women’s libbers” faces. It is a statement that says if we are going to get tough on preventing sexual assault, then victims need to comply with the law and report their rapists, so 20 years down the road we don’t have this guy infecting every unit he is assigned to with his rape of females.  
    We’ve accepted that females, if they choose to meet the standard, can go to Ranger School, serve in Combat MOS’s, and fight tyranny across the globe, but they are so weak that they can’t protect their battle buddies from a rapist by going to law enforcement and reporting it?  C’mon.  It is a very valid point of contention.  You might not agree with it, but there are a few people who have commented who seem to see the validity of the point Charlie made.
    But, I guess these are the exceptions that are to be made.  Some of them are good and some of them are bad.  I would say that if the purpose of required reporting to ensure that criminals are caught so they don’t commit other crimes or they get caught so they can kicked out of the military, then allowing restricted reporting is a bad exception.  If the value of restricted reporting to the military exceeds the required reporting requirement, then there shouldn’t be a required reporting requirement.

  38. stewie says:

    Oh please. Not buying it.
    Men are more victims of sex assault than women are, in society and the military numerically. This isn’t a female sex assault victims often don’t report these crimes thing, it’s an ALL sex assault victims often don’t report them thing. In fact, male sex assault victims are LESS likely to report than female.
    So this whole women are weak crap is sexist silliness.
    Hey, we are getting tough on larceny, so if you get something stolen from you and don’t report it…WE ARE COMING AFTER YOU!
    It’s ridiculousness dressed up as “valid concern.”

  39. DCGoneGalt says:

    Has anyone else noticed that when stewie posts concerned defender doesn’t seem to have the time to post?  It almost seems as if they are the same person.  Hmmmm . . . .

  40. Bionic Barry Dylan says:

    I literally jumped up and cheered when I read this article.  Good to see there is finally a false accuser getting her just desserts.

  41. stewie says:

    If I wanted to impersonate a crazy person, I’d be more entertaining at it.