Attorneys for five soldiers filed new claims against the Army and the Department of Defense this week, alleging they were sexually abused by Army Maj. Michael Stockin, a doctor at Joint Base Lewis-McChord who faces criminal charges of fondling patients.
The plaintiffs, identified as John Does, are former patients of Stockin. On Monday, they joined two other troops who previously had filed complaints under the Federal Torts Claims Act against Stockin, an anesthesiologist and pain management specialist who was charged on Aug. 29 with abusive sexual contact and indecent viewing involving 23 victims.
The charges were expanded on Oct. 17 to include 17 more persons.
According to the service members' attorneys at Washington, D.C.-based Sanford Heisler Sharp, the clients all have "remarkably similar allegations," saying Stockin required that they disrobe during their appointments and then, without a chaperone present, "fondled their genitals."
The administrative complaints "allege that there was no medical necessity for Stockin to touch the patients' genitals in this matter."
The claims also charge that the Army is liable because it was negligent in hiring, supervising, and retaining Stockin and it lacked adequate protocols to keep patients safe from abuse.
"These soldiers thought they could trust a U.S. Army doctor but he abused that trust in the most egregious way," attorney Christine Dunn said in a statement. "The massive scope of the sexual abuse indicates that the Army was negligent in supervising Dr. Stockin. The five complaints we filed today present powerful allegations of a pattern of neglect by the Army."
The case, first reported in August by The Washington Post, could represent the largest case ever of sexual assault by a single service member.
On Nov. 6, Stockin waived his right to a preliminary hearing, which tentatively was set for Nov. 9.
Stockin's attorney, Robert Capovilla, a former Army judge advocate general, specializes in defending service members accused of sexual assault. He did not respond to a request for comment by publication.
The Army has not released the charge sheets against Stockin. According to Army Lt. Col. Jennifer Bocanegra, spokesperson for I Corps, after the officer waived his right to a preliminary hearing, the charges were returned to Stockin's brigade commander for a "recommendation on disposition."
"The charges are merely accusations, and Maj. Stockin is presumed innocent until proven guilty at trial. The Army does not comment on ongoing investigations," Bocanegra wrote in an email Thursday to Military.com.
Stockin previously served in Iraq, at Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii and at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, according to the Post.
The Federal Torts Claims Act allows people to bring legal claims against the federal government for wrongdoings done by federal employees. First, a claimant must file an administrative complaint against a government agency -- in this case, the Army and the Defense Department -- which then has six months to respond.
If the agency doesn't respond, the plaintiff can file a lawsuit in federal court.
But troops often face an uphill battle taking cases to court against the Defense Department to court. Service members generally are barred from suing the government over injuries considered "instrumental to military service" -- the result of a 1950s-era U.S. Supreme Court ruling known as the Feres doctrine.
While numerous lawsuits have been filed against the Pentagon in the past 70 years, none that have gone to the U.S. Supreme Court has successfully challenged the Feres precedent.
However, the 9th U.S. Circut Court of Appeals ruled in the case last year against retired Air Force Gen. John Hyten that retired Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser could file a lawsuit because the sexual assault “could not conceivable serve any military purpose.”
With this case as precedent, Dunn said Feres should not apply to her clients.
“Every service member probably thinks that Ferris is fundamentally unfair, that civilians should have rights that service members don’t. The Army really failed them,” Dunn said during an interview with Military.com.
Army officials said Stockin was barred from seeing patients in February 2022. Dunn said one of her clients was seen after that month and another reported his assault to his chain of command in 2020 but the Army failed to act.
A law passed in late 2019 that allowed service members to file administrative medical malpractice claims against the DoD and the military services, but service members cannot sue.
The charge of abusive sexual contact falls under Article 120 of the UCMJ -- "Rape and Sexual Assault Generally." Maximum punishment includes a reduction in rank, dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement for up to seven years.
The maximum punishment for indecent viewing is reduction in rank, dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and confinement up to one year.
Bocanegra did not respond to a request for comment on the pending claims. In general, the Defense Department does not comment on pending litigation.
Dunn said the process has been difficult for her clients who have faced the stigma of being male survivors of sexual assault.
“Not only are they men but they were soldiers, trained to be tough. To know that this could happen to them, It’s been really, really emotionally hard for them,” Dunn said.
Editor's Note: In an email to Military.com on Nov. 19, Stockin's attorney, Robert Capovilla, explained his client's reasons for waiving his right to the Article 32 hearing. Calling the case a "witch hunt," Capovilla said that the alleged victims refused to testify or answer the defense's questions, and, he added, the government planned to present additional information on the investigation that "had not been previously disclosed to the defense."
"The government only planned on releasing the information to the defense a day before the Article 32 hearing or at the hearing, which is undoubtedly a direct attempt at trial by ambush. The defense looks forward to a fair trial and the opportunity to challenge these allegations in the courtroom," Capovilla wrote.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com.