Army officer, doctor denies sexually abusing 41 servicemembers

Maj. Michael Stockin

Shea Johnson
The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

Jul. 5—A doctor at Joint Base Lewis-McChord is facing dozens of sexual-abuse charges involving 41 patients in a case that has also ensnared the Army in allegations that it failed to protect servicemen at the base.

Maj. Michael Stockin pleaded not guilty in April to 47 charges of abusive sexual contact and five charges of indecent viewing, according to Michelle McCaskill, spokesperson for the U.S. Army Office of Special Trial Counsel. The latter charge is defined as wrongfully viewing a person’s private area.

Stockin, 38, who’s been assigned to Madigan Army Medical Center since July 2019, is working in an administrative capacity in a non-clinical area of the hospital and doesn’t live on base, McCaskill told The News Tribune.

His trial is scheduled for January, according to military court records. He could face more than 330 years in prison if found guilty of all charges and a judge was to order him to serve those sentences consecutively, McCaskill said, citing the statutory maximum penalties for the charges.

Attorney Robert Capovilla, who’s representing Stockin, said in a statement that the defense intended to fight every allegation until there’s a jury verdict.

“Until then, we sincerely hope that the United States Army is fully prepared to respect Major Stockin’s Constitutional rights at every phase of this process,” Capovilla said. “We understand — that in today’s political culture — some in the media will continue to condemn Major Stockin and render judgment before a jury or judge even hears the evidence.

“We urge everyone to keep an open mind, to remember Major Stockin is presumed innocent, and understand that this fight is just getting started.”

More than 100 victims?

Federal tort claims filed last week by four alleged victims reveal details of Stockin’s purported wrongdoing. Three soldiers and an airman who filed the claims were referred to the hospital’s Interdisciplinary Pain Management Center between August 2021 and April 2022. Each said that a visit to be treated for back pain by Stockin, an anesthesiologist and pain management specialist, devolved into abuse.

They claimed that Stockin asked them to remove their pants and underwear and then fondled or stared at their genitals for no apparent medical reasons during uncomfortable exams unlike any they had received before, according to copies of the complaints obtained by The News Tribune.

Christine Dunn is an attorney representing the men and 11 other alleged victims who have also filed tort claims since September. Dunn said in an interview that the scope of accusers who have come forward illustrated systemic issues inside the Army.

“The sheer volume of victims really suggests to me that the Army was negligent in its procedures and policies,” Dunn said. “They didn’t have adequate procedures in place to keep patients safe.”

It’s alleged that the number of victims is higher than indicated by the charges, which are all related to patients at the base hospital.

The tort claims contend that Stockin sexually abused more than 100 patients — a figure that Dunn said was derived from her clients who relayed information received from their interviews with Army criminal investigators. Dunn said she wasn’t certain that all the uncharged allegations against Stockin stemmed from his time at JBLM but noted that she personally had only spoken with servicemen at the base. Among her clients, the purported abuse dated back to 2019.

“I think that at some point (investigators) had to stop adding additional victims or they never would have gone to trial,” she said. “There are more out there.”

Army under scrutiny

Dunn represents some patients whose complaints weren’t charged in the criminal case, she said. Many of her clients have since medically retired, some at a “very young” age, due to the injuries that prompted their hospital visits in the first place, she added.

The four complaints filed June 27 alleged that the Army was negligent because it should have better screened Stockin before hiring him and better supervised him during patient interactions. Two of the purported victims were seen a month or two after the Army was notified of accusations against the doctor, according to Dunn, who added that the doctor’s alleged behavior had been reported through the chain of command and no action was taken.

Each claim, including the 11 previously filed, seeks $5 million in damages.

A message left with the Army’s public affairs office was not immediately returned. Madigan Army Medical Center did not provide a response to an inquiry by deadline.

Attorney Ryan Guilds, who’s serving as a pro bono victims’ counsel retained by seven alleged victims in the criminal case, said that it wasn’t clear what the Army has done to fully look into whether the same reported issues involving Stockin had arisen outside of JBLM.

“What I continue to remain very concerned about is the adequacy of the investigation in this case,” he said.

In his role, he is expected to protect his clients’ privacy, serve as an independent voice on their behalf throughout proceedings and empower them at sentencing should there be a conviction. Guilds said he is concerned that half of the alleged victims in the criminal matter don’t yet have an attorney despite being entitled to one.

Provided an opportunity to respond to the claims, a spokesperson for the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division said it wasn’t believed there would be any additional comment about Stockin’s case beyond what was offered by the U.S. Army Office of Special Trial Counsel and referred The News Tribune to the Army’s general public affairs.

In November, a military-oriented human rights organization called Protect Our Defenders, for whom Guilds is an advisor, issued a media advisory prior to a probable cause hearing for Stockin. The group called the case “historic” and “the largest military sexual assault scandal in recent history.”

The group also urged Congress to overhaul the Feres Doctrine, which prevents military members injured on active duty from suing the federal government.

A tort claim generally precedes a lawsuit, but the Feres Doctrine has historically limited sexual assault claims against the Army, according to Dunn’s firm, Sanford Heisler Sharp LLP. The firm recently said that a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in August 2022 set a path for legal recourse. The appellate court’s ruling upheld a lower court’s finding that permitted Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser to pursue her claims against the Army after accusing then-Air Force Gen. John Hyten of sexual misconduct.

Dunn underscored that it was important to recognize the impact that the situation has had on her clients — men and soldiers who are taught to be tough and have had to admit to being alleged victims to “such an egregious abuse of trust.”

This story was originally published July 5, 2024, 5:00 AM.


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