Madeline Lewis was born to go to West Point. She says her parents brought her home from the hospital wearing a onesie with “West Point” emblazoned across the chest. For several Halloweens in a row, she dressed up as a West Point Cheerleader. A picture of her in costume sits on her grandmother’s desk.
“West Point was just something I grew up with,” Lewis says.
Lewis was a legacy cadet, the granddaughter of 1965 West Point grad Dennis Lewis Sr., who played for the practice football team, and was awarded the Bronze star with valor for his later service in Vietnam leading Army infantrymen.
As a child, Lewis was close to her grandfather. They would sit on his back porch in Ohio, eating cucumbers and tomatoes from his garden, and she would listen to his stories about West Point, “back in the days.”
A few days before Lewis’ grandfather died while waiting for a heart transplant in 2009, he gave her his Ranger tab, a military decoration signifying completion of the Army’s Ranger School, “the most physically and mentally demanding leadership school the Army has to offer,” she said.
Dennis Lewis was buried with full military honors in West Point Cemetery. Nestled beneath a ginkgo tree, his headstone reads simply, “A West Point Football Player.”
After her grandfather's death Madeline Lewis became obsessed with the idea of following in his footsteps. She lost a hundred pounds, joined sports teams and won leadership positions within her Ohio high school. By senior year, she had landed two major nominations to the military academy, from U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown and Representative Tim Ryan.
In 2014, Lewis was admitted to West Point.
A serious knee injury during basic training that summer and a difficult relationship with her roommate nearly spelled the end for Lewis, but she fought to stay—a decision she now regrets.
“I kick myself now for not just leaving after I got hurt,” she says. “But I wanted to be there.”
Three weeks into the 2014 school year, Lewis, who was still on crutches and needed surgery, says she met Ahmad Ali Bradshaw, a West Point quarterback who was best friends with her roommate.
One night, as Lewis later told West Point investigators, she came back to her room after a shower. Bradshaw was there and, she claimed, he raped her.
Bradshaw denied having any sexual contact with Lewis at all, according to an internal investigation report obtained by The Daily Beast. Bradshaw also chose to not render an official statement and invoked his right to remain silent.
West Point’s internal investigation concluded that a consensual sexual relationship between the cadets had occurred, and a second investigation, by the Army Criminal Investigation Division and the Staff Judge Advocate, found there was “insufficient evidence” to charge Bradshaw with sexual assault.
Bradshaw declined to comment on the allegations when contacted by a Daily Beast reporter, and West Point denied an interview with Bradshaw, saying in an email that it was a “really busy time given the classroom environment and the upcoming Army Navy activities.”
The annual rivalry game is Saturday and Bradshaw, a team captain, is expected to start as quarterback.
Mentorship for Him, Detention for Her
Lewis says her roommate—with whom she often argued—told on her for having sex in the barracks.
Lewis then filed a formal report, a copy which was viewed by The Daily Beast.
Following the report, Lewis says she underwent a rape test at the Army medical hospital, an experience she calls “invasive.” Then, she says, the medical team put her on 24/7 suicide watch.
“If you can think of someone holding a vial of poison, and handing it off to another person because no one wanted to touch it. That’s how I was treated.”
West Point launched an investigation into her claims, a school report obtained by The Daily Beast shows.
Despite Bradshaw’s denial of sex, West Point’s internal investigation led by Maj. Damon M. Torres concluded that a sexual relationship between the cadets had indeed occurred, but Torres called it consensual. It is unclear from the documents how Torres arrived at that conclusion, and West Point declined to share specifics, citing privacy for both parties.
Nevertheless, Bradshaw was charged with a violation of Article 1 of the Cadet Disciplinary Code for improper use of government facilities by way of “sexual activity, which includes, but is not limited to: kissing, hand holding, and fondling,” according to West Point regulations.
Torres recommended Bradshaw be punished with a Brigade Board, one of the most serious blemishes a cadet can receive on their record, and be enrolled in the Respect Mentorship Program, according to West Point documents viewed by The Daily Beast. The program is designed to “educate cadets on moral-ethical topics, to challenge them with critical thinking experiences, and to provide structured reflection.”
Meanwhile, Lewis says she was punished by being forced to “do hours,” what amounted to isolated detention due to her injured knee.
A second investigation by the Army Criminal Investigation Division and the Staff Judge Advocate, who advises West Point leaders on legal matters, found there was “insufficient evidence” to charge Bradshaw with sexual assault. Bradshaw was suspended from football for the duration of the criminal investigation, West Point told The Daily Beast in an email. West Point had previously attributed his absence from the field to “an unspecified Academy matter.”
When asked about Lewis’s claims, West Point told The Daily Beast in a statement:
“The U.S. Military Academy takes all allegations of criminal conduct seriously and thoroughly investigates alleged criminal activity. We also respect the privacy and rights of those accused and victims of crimes. The investigation concluded that there was no probable cause to believe that the alleged offenses occurred and has been closed.”
The Daily Beast first learned of Lewis’s report because of documents that a source inside the Army provided to The Daily Beast. The source was granted anonymity because the materials are marked “For Official Use Only.” (West Point said it is investigating the leak.)
The source, a high-ranking, highly decorated soldier, told The Daily Beast that the decision to disclose the files was based on his belief that Bradshaw’s documented honor code and behavior violations, negative observation reports, and below-average performance shows he does not have the integrity to lead men and women into potential combat or wear the uniform of a U.S. Army officer.
“The documents simply show that the institution…has to take a step back and ask itself if they are developing the next crop of America’s military leaders in a manner that drives the importance of good characters,” the source said.
Lewis’s complaint is one of 78 unrestricted reports of sexual assault made in the last four years at the military academy, according to statistics provided by West Point to The Daily Beast. Of those, investigators found only 27 to be “substantiated,” resulting in criminal charges in ten cases. Of the remaining reports, 23 were found “unsubstantiated.” In 16 cases, victims declined further investigation and in 11, an investigation is ongoing. One case is pending trial.
Earlier this year, a former cadet attempted to sue her West Point superiors, claiming their perpetration of a “sexually aggressive culture” contributed to her alleged rape in 2010.
A federal appeals court denied her request, writing that “civilian courts are ill-equipped to second-guess military decisions regarding basic choices about the discipline, supervision and control of service members.”
That cadet left West Point following her alleged rape in 2010, according to court documents. She went on to earn a degree from a civilian college.
“The Whore of the Corps”
Lewis finished the fall semester and then went on leave for knee surgery, after which she, too, doubted she’d be back. By February 2015, she was sure, posting to her Facebook, “I will never ever come back to a place as terrible and as small minded as West Point...I am not class of 2019 nor could you pay me enough to join an institution who treats their comrades in arms so poorly. USMA has got their work cut out for you.”
Lewis says she might have stayed, but her fellow cadets weren’t going to let that happen.
On yik yak—a social media platform, once popular on college campuses but now defunct, that allowed people in close proximity to chat anonymously—her classmates were talking about her.
People were writing that she should be “taken out back” and shot, “like Old Yeller,” according to screenshots viewed by The Daily Beast. Other cadets called Lewis “the whore of the corps,” and said Bradshaw’s suspension had cost them the Army-Navy game in 2014. When Lewis complained to her superiors, the cadets just took their chatter to a private Facebook group, she says.
Much of that talk involved her sexual activity. Lewis said she had a sexual relationship with a few other cadets during her time at West Point, a fact that she said her classmates used to discredit her at the time.
Lewis has now transferred to a state college far away from West Point.
Meanwhile, Bradshaw became West Point’s star quarterback. He scored the game-winning touchdown against Navy last year, breaking Army’s 14-game losing streak to its archrival.
But perhaps Bradshaw shouldn’t have been playing at all.
Caught Cheating, Permitted to Play
According to a document provided by the Army source, Bradshaw has been the subject of numerous negative conduct reports besides the one involving Lewis—even violating West Point’s famed honor code for cheating in 2016, which should have seen him benched for the 2016 fall season but did not.
West Point’s honor code—“A Cadet will not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do”—is at the “center of the very being of the United States Military Academy,” it says.
West Point separated 56 cadets in 2016, 10 for honor violations and 18 for other misconduct conduct. Bradshaw was not among them despite being found guilty of “lying/cheating” by a Cadet Honor Committee at West Point in May 2016.
“His infraction involved failure to properly cite in an academic course,” West Point told The Daily Beast.
A day after he was caught for an honor violation, Bradshaw’s tactical officer, wrote in his file: “Cadet Bradshaw struggles with grades, but always attends the football study sessions and strives to help his peers within the company, militarily. His military performance has improved this term, and he is doing well in the company. Pending the results of the honor investigation, I would recommend retain.”
Bradshaw's file shows the commandant imposed a series of standard sanctions, including a reduction in rank to private first class, loss of all privileges, and a suspension from “representing the Academy through participation in corps squad and or club squad activities, including participating in games and competition.”
Bradshaw’s file said these restrictions are “binding and continue through successful completion of the Honor Mentorship Program.” West Point told The Daily Beast that Bradshaw was placed into the program, a “rigorous six-month program, where a senior member of the staff or faculty provides one-on-one mentorship to the cadet.”
Yet Bradshaw started the season opener at Temple University on September 2, before he completed the program. That game he rushed 50 yards and scored a touchdown.
Bradshaw went on to set the Army’s all-time single-season rushing leader record with 244 yards on 27 carries against North Texas and lead the team to victory over Navy.
In an email to The Daily Beast, West Point said that “Cadet Bradshaw's subsequent participation in athletics at no time violated the terms of his honor adjudication...as the sanctions imposed by an adjudicated Honor Board are not effective until the Superintendent takes action on the case.”
West Point said Bradshaw’s May 2016 violation was not adjudicated until November 2016—after the football season was over—and did not become effective until West Point’s superintendent took action on the honor case in Feb. 2017, during the football off-season.
“The timing of the Honor Board and the action taken by the Superintendent followed the typical timeline for other cases that year and no special consideration was given to Cadet Bradshaw,” West Point said.
“The Superintendent's action document reflects that Cadet Bradshaw was to be suspended from participation in intercollegiate athletics,” West Point told The Daily Beast, meaning that Bradshaw would be barred from playing Army football games when there were no football games to play, between February and August 2017.
By mid-August, Bradshaw had completed a majority of the Senior Leadership Development Program for Honor requirements, according to West Point, and on August 14, 2017, his development coach formally requested that Bradshaw be able to represent the Academy. The request was approved by the Cadet Honor Committee, Bradshaw's chain of command, and the Superintendent just in time for Army football’s season opener against Fordham University on September 1, where Bradshaw led the team to victory 64-6.
In addition to his honor code violation, Bradshaw was disciplined by his company before the fall of 2016 for an undisclosed reason related to his conduct over the summer, according to his record reviewed by The Daily Beast. West Point declined to answer why Bradshaw was disciplined.
Bradshaw didn't attend the first football season practice in August 2016 because of “some administrative stuff for something on campus,” Army coach Jeff Monke said at the time.
Bradshaw also did not attend the Affirmation Ceremony where cadets take the oath to finish their final two years at the academy and serve five years in the Army afterwards. Bradshaw later took the oath.
“Cadet Bradshaw is currently a below-average cadet physically and militarily,” his tactical officer wrote in a report after Bradshaw had failed a major course requirement for his major in system design and management in Jan. 2017.
“However, he is able to meet all requirements. He has an average reputation with the company and contributed this semester. He has great leadership potential, as demonstrated in football, but has not translated into his performance in the three cadet pillars [of academics, military and physical fitness]. I feel that he can overcome this deficiency, improve and succeed at the Academy.”
Bradshaw was also the subject of 15 negative cadet observation reports out of a total 20, according to a list reviewed by The Daily Beast. Four reports were positive and one neutral. The negative reports were written by Bradshaw’s fellow cadets and three U.S. Army majors.
West Point declined to detail the reports, but such reports generally concern “breach of regulations, improper appearance and bearing, demonstration of a surly or lackadaisical attitude, or apparent lack of professionalism definitely warrant the counseling of a cadet,” according to a West Point manual.
“Malaise that pervades the entire institution”
A West Point assistant professor, who retired from the Academy in August, blasted the academy’s “nonexistent” standards in an open letter to its graduates two months ago.
“The Superintendent refuses to enforce admissions standards or the cadet Honor Code, the Dean refuses to enforce academic standards, and the Commandant refuses to enforce standards of conduct and discipline,” wrote retired Army Lt. Col. Robert M. Heffington, who was an associate professor and graduate.
“The end result is a sort of malaise that pervades the entire institution. Nothing matters anymore. Cadets know this, and it has given rise to a level of cadet arrogance and entitlement the likes of which West Point has never seen in its history.”
Heffington’s letter came as no surprise to West Point. Three years earlier, West Point surveyed cadets and faculty who reported deficiencies in “trust, honor, and toleration.”
An assessment included with the survey that both cadets and faculty openly are aware of deficiencies in the academy’s administration of the honor system.
“Cadets believe the Honor System is too random in its outcomes, has different standards for different populations, and is subject to outside influence by lawyers and officers,” the report said. “Staff and faculty also mistrust the system because they believe too many cadets are not being found for obvious violations of the Honor Code.”
Lewis shares that opinion.
“I still feel like West Point has the right idea: to take the best of the best and test them,” she said. “I’m frustrated that they’re coddling the people who will win them games and don’t care about people like me.”
When asked whether she misses West Point, Lewis comes back to her grandfather.
On Monday nights, while she was still a cadet, Lewis said she would grab a sandwich and crutch her way over to the cemetery to have dinner by her grandfather’s grave. She hasn’t been back since July 2015.
“I miss the potential that I had there,” she says. “I wanted to say that I did it, that I graduated from West Point. And I don’t have that anymore.”