Brandon Jackson grew up watching Army football in Queens, New York. As a freshman at the United States Military Academy at West Point, he played in every game. By his sophomore year, the 20-year-old cadet was a starting defensive back and helped bring home the season’s first two wins.
After the game against Rice University on September 10, 2016, Jackson, a cadet corporal, changed into his civilian clothes and went to a tailgate party with coaching staff and other cadets, at a house on base. From there, Jackson and at least five of his underage teammates went out drinking, first grabbing alcohol from a local gas station and then to a nearby bar known to serve minors. Though not of legal age to drink, Jackson and his friends did so anyway, in full view of at least one current officer and in violation of West Point’s strict code of ethics, according to an Army investigation report reviewed by The Daily Beast.
Jackson and his friends drove back to the barracks a little after midnight. But instead of going to sleep, Jackson breezed past the cadet watching post, walked back out to the parking lot, and climbed into the Nissan that he kept despite the rules against underclassmen having personal vehicles on campus.
Jackson planned to visit his girlfriend 80 miles away, the report said, but ten minutes later he hit a guardrail and was instantly killed.
The report cites an investigation by the Croton-Harmon, New York police department that found Jackson’s car was going 97 miles per hour at the moment of impact and his blood alcohol concentration was .12 percent, nearly twice the legal limit to drive in New York. A case of beer was found among the wreckage.
In the report, an Army investigator wrote, “While his death was 100% the result of his own open, deliberate, and knowing malfeasance, the institutional-cultural lens is important because Cadet Jackson’s actions were ambivalently treated as ambiguous offenses by USMA [United States Military Academy] personnel who witnessed his misconduct.”
The Daily Beast obtained a copy of the unreleased report, a collection of emails, and internal records from a military official who released the documents to expose what he calls the academy’s “special treatment” of cadets on the football team.
“Cadet Jackson correctly perceived that no potential witnesses would care enough to intervene, as well as there was little chance of getting caught,” the Army investigator wrote.
“Maybe, if the institutional culture were different, he would have simply taken pass and left earlier, without drinking,” the report concluded. “The threat of getting caught and punishment must be real to the individual cadet. Clearly, specific deterrence failed in the case of Cadet Jackson.”
The report also contained several recommendations. Among them, that academy officials enforce rules including the barring of vehicles for underclassmen, ban cadets from the local bar notorious for serving the underage athletes, and take disciplinary action against both the cadets drinking with Jackson that night.
Despite what might have been a sobering wake up call for the football program after cadet Jackson’s death, the culture of permissiveness at the prestigious military academy continues, according to the internal documents, as well as current and former West Point officials who agreed to be interviewed under the condition of anonymity as they were not cleared speak on the record.
“It’s not about honor. It's about whatever it takes to win,” one military official said.
In the past two years, Army football has crawled its way back to national prominence under the leadership of Coach Jeff Monken, now in his fourth season as head coach. This weekend, they are set to take on the San Diego State Aztecs in the Armed Forces Bowl, after their one-point victory over Navy earlier this month—the team’s second win over their fellow service academy after a 14-year losing streak.
Publicly, West Point has kept quiet on the cause of Jackson’s death. Police in Croton-on-Hudson, the law enforcement agency tasked with the investigation, have not released details from their case.
In a letter to the West Point community, Superintendent Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen Jr. wrote, “We will honor his life as we mourn the untimely death of a young man who had a promising future as a leader in service to our nation... Brandon internalized our watch words: duty, honor, country.”
In an emailed response to questions about the investigator’s report, West Point’s Director of Public Affairs and Communications Lt. Col. Chevelle Thomas, wrote, “The death of Cadet Brandon Jackson was a tragic accident that sent shockwaves across the Academy. USMA has acknowledged that alcohol was involved and as a result redoubled its efforts to prevent substance abuse by any cadet. Our thoughts remain with the Jackson family as they continue to cope with the loss of a loved one especially during this holiday season.”
Despite the investigator’s recommendations, internal documents show that since Jackson’s death, many of West Point’s most high-profile players still seem to operate under a different set of rules than typical cadets: failing classes, openly disregarding rules, and avoiding discipline—even being awarded elite team positions—for infractions that would usually lead to suspension or expulsion.
It was nine minutes past midnight on June 17 this year, when the North Carolina State Highway Patrol notified a military police officer liaison that Cadet Jeffrey Ejekam, a 20-year-old West Point wide receiver, had been arrested for Driving While Impaired, according to an internal Army document reviewed by The Daily Beast and facts confirmed by Cumberland County court records.
Ejekam’s passenger, a 22-year-old Army specialist out of Fort Bragg, was also arrested for aiding and abetting Ejekam’s drunk driving, according to Cumberland County.
The Army cadet and soldier were transported to the Cumberland County Detention Center in North Carolina, where Ejekam was found to have a blood alcohol concentration of .15, nearly twice the state’s legal driving limit, according to the internal documents.
Ejekam has not been convicted. His state case is scheduled for February in Cumberland County court.
Internal disciplinary records provided to The Daily Beast show Ejekam was temporarily benched, reduced in rank to Private First Class, and enrolled in the Special Leader Development Program, a 12-16 week disciplinary program meant to improve deficiencies in cadets, with the goal of developing a faltering cadet into “a future commissioned leader of character.”
By September, Ejekam was back on the field.
“[Ejekam] didn’t play for two games and that was it. In the Army, [a DUI] is a career ender. Other cadets get DUIs and they get kicked out,” the West Point source told The Daily Beast.
West Point separated 56 cadets in 2016, 10 for honor violations and 18 for other misconduct conduct, but does not provide detailed specifics for its separations.
In a 2015 article for the academy newspaper, a USMA attorney warned cadets that a DUI over holiday break could lead to various consequences, including separation.
Ejekam isn’t the only athlete being disciplined for alcohol abuse. Several Black Knights are also enrolled in the Academy Substance Abuse Program (ASAP), an Army initiative that aims to educate and rehabilitate cadets who have issues with alcohol and drugs.
Eight football players have been enrolled in the ASAP program since August, as a condition of brigade board and commandant level offenses. Three of them have continued to play without pause.
And despite the West Point claim that Black Knights are “cadets first, and athletes second,” many of the football players pass classes only with the aid of their coaches.
According to internal emails viewed by The Daily Beast, football players are failing classes and frequently require special summer courses to maintain eligibility. In one email from 2017, a senior member of the coaching staff hurriedly coordinates makeup classes for several failing players, adding at the end, “Granted...at some point, these guys need to quit failing courses.”
Citing federal law and Army regulations, West Point declined to confirm, deny, or comment with specificity on the allegations regarding cadet conduct, grades, or discipline.
“USMA reiterates that the information alluded to was illegally obtained and represents a grave breach of the privacy of the young men and women who have volunteered to serve their nation in harm's way upon completion of USMA's rigorous leader development program. The disclosure of any of the information cited is in blatant violation of federal law,” Lt. Col. Chevelle Thomas said.
In April 2017, 11 members of the football team attended a house party at an Airbnb rental in nearby Garrison, New York. A preliminary internal investigation found all the players had left the base without permission and some had violated restrictions. A few were accused of damaging the rental, according to the disciplinary documents.
In string of emails between the coaching staff and the commandant of cadets, a staff member advocating for the players noted: “Most of [the partygoers] are athletes, and several are high profile.”
One cadet in particular, Ahmad Ali Bradshaw, elicited special concern from senior-level staff.
The star quarterback had been investigated and cleared of a sexual assault allegation during his freshman year, as The Daily Beast previously reported. Then, during his junior year in May 2016, a Cadet Honor Committee at West Point found him guilty of cheating in class and lying about it, according to discipline records viewed by The Daily Beast. As punishment, the commandant imposed honor sanctions, including a reduction in rank to private first class and loss of all privileges, and a suspension from “representing the Academy” by participating in games until a six-month mentorship was complete.
However, West Point did not adjudicate Bradshaw’s May 2016 violation until November 2016—after the football season was over. His punishment officially took effect in February 2017, during the off-season.
And Bradshaw continued to get in trouble—missing classes without excuse, starting a food fight in the chow hall, and refusing to follow orders, according to internal disciplinary records. It was nearly a year later, in April 2017, when Bradshaw—who still hadn’t completed the requirements necessary to lift the honor code sanctions against him—sneaked off campus in an unauthorized car to attend the house party. An internal investigation found Bradshaw’s actions were in direct violation of his honor code restrictions.
“I don’t need to tell you how seriously I (and we) take this after the events of the past year,” a senior staff member wrote about Bradshaw’s attendance at the Garrison party, seemingly alluding to Jackson’s recent death. “[Having an unauthorized car] could change the calculous for this young man. Frankly, he is not doing anything to help himself—violating privileges, not signing out, and an unauthorized car is something very different….”
Less than a week later, Bradshaw and John Voit, another player who, according to the documents, attended the party and was disciplined for vandalizing the rental property, represented West Point on the field and were named team captains.
Bradshaw returned to start the 2017 season against Temple University on Sept. 2, in which he rushed 50 years and scored a touchdown. He continued to dominate the season that his commanders had originally ordered him to sit out.
In protest of Bradshaw’s appointment to team captain, a senior ranking officer in the Brigade Tactical Department that oversees military training and commands cadets wrote to the commandant of cadets: Bradshaw was an “average or below average cadet” and “a turnback due to honor.”
The brigade leader went on to explain why Bradshaw had been allowed to continue to play in light of his honor sanctions.
“His ability to play football is purely based on the mentor's recommendations to the superintendent regardless of the chain of command recommendation. I think we consistently have seen this to be true... I’m not debating this. I understand the [organizational environment].”
“In my opinion, Ma’am, Cadet Bradshaw should not be a team captain—not based on regulation and probably not based on our values.”
The brigade leader’s concerns were apparently ignored or overruled. Bradshaw, Voit, and three other cadets disciplined in the house party incident are slated to start in Saturday’s Armed Forces Bowl.