An Army National Guard colonel charged with knowingly exposing a woman to HIV faced his accuser in a military courtroom on Monday.
Col. Jeffrey Pounding, a Special Forces officer, is charged with assault, adultery, and conduct unbecoming an officer, according to the Army Times. The accusations against Pounding are being heard in an Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a grand jury.
Pounding’s case only recently went public but an Army officer who recently served with him told The Daily Beast that there have been whispers about the colonel in military circles for months. In an unusual move, Pounding is rumored to have passed up command of one of the Army’s more prestigious units.
Now in the spotlight, Pounding’s case exposes facets of military law that are not widely known, including the status of HIV-positive service members and the fact that adultery is prohibited under military law.
Testing positive for the infection bars applicants from enlisting in the military, but it doesn’t lead automatically to discharge for soldiers who contract the disease after they join the Army. It’s not known how or when Pounding contracted HIV, but his failure to disclose his status is included on the charge sheet against him.
The officer who served with Pounding said that when he first met him, “he was well-respected and he was on a meteoric rise.”
With his Special Forces background and impressive credentials, Pounding “had general written all over him,” the officer said.
Pounding has only been charged, he hasn’t been found guilty of any crimes but his legal troubles have eclipsed his once promising future in the army.
In the early summer, word began to spread in Pounding’s unit that he had HIV. That was the last the Army officer heard about Pounding until he saw the news yesterday that the colonel was facing charges for his alleged affair.
Pounding’s affair began in 2009 at Texas A&M University, where he was assigned as an Army fellow, according to his accuser. The relationship continued through 2011 after the colonel left the university, the woman said, with meetings arranged while Pounding was on work trips.
Over the course of their affair, the woman alleges that Pounding never mentioned that he was HIV-positive. The two had unprotected sex on multiple occasions, according to the woman.
It wasn’t until she received a call, not from Pounding but a public-health official, that the woman learned about the colonel’s status.
“[I was] sick to my stomach,” the woman said at the hearing on Monday, describing her reaction to learning that she had been exposed to HIV. “I didn’t know what to think,” she said, “I thought I was going to die.”
Later testing determined that she was negative for HIV, the woman told the court.
Pounding is charged with one count each of assault, adultery, and conduct unbecoming an officer. Adultery is officially illegal in the military, but rarely prosecuted on its own. Typically, adultery charges are added to cases where there have been other offenses.
Those charges aren’t nearly as severe as they could have been, according to Gary Myers, a former Army JAG attorney who now works as a civilian lawyer specializing in military justice. Myers isn’t familiar with all the details of the case but after reviewing the charges, he said, “Something like reckless endangerment comes to mind. To treat what Pounding is accused of as a simple assault is on the very low end of proportionality.” The fact that Pounding’s accuser tested negative “doesn’t make it any less egregious as far as his conduct is concerned,” Myers said.
The next step in Pounding’s case is up to the military authorities presiding over the Article 32 hearing. If the convening authority decides that the charges against Pounding have no merit, he can throw them out and send the colonel back to work without any punishment.
If the prosecution makes its case and the charges stick, Pounding could be headed for a general court martial. A judge there would have wide latitude in sentencing and could send the colonel to prison.
Editor's Note: This story has been corrected, two quotes that appeared due to an editor's error have been removed.