Attorney: Chaplain Broke Trust Ex-Cadet's Lawyer Wants Priest Court-Martialed

By Erin Emery
Denver Post
April 21, 2000

Air Force Academy - A lawyer for a former cadet who says she had a sexual relationship with a Catholic priest stationed at the Air Force Academy says the chaplain deserves to be court-martialed because the allegations shake the very foundation of the honor-bound institution.

Robert 'Rick' Cusick, the attorney for Air Force Maj. Susan Archibald, 35, said the Rev. Pat Nicholson should be court-martialed because 'I think it's a grave offense. I think it's a breach of trust.'

In November, Archibald notified the academy that she and Nicholson had had a sexual relationship while she was freshman at the academy in the spring of 1984. Last summer, after encountering him at the academy, she says, she had sex again with the priest.

The relationship in 1984, Cusick said, is 'characteristic of abuse, whether or not it may have the colorization of romance. It's completely inconsistent with the duties of an officer, even if he's not a Catholic priest.'

According to a source familiar with the investigation, the Office of Special Investigations has confirmed that at least one other Air Force woman had an improper sexual relationship with Nicholson.

On Thursday, Cusick said he believes that someone at the academy told Nicholson that he was under investigation. Cusick said that tipoff may have given Nicholson time to remove letters from his home that had been written to him by other women.

Nicholson could not be reached Thursday for comment.

The academy said Thursday it could not reveal details of the investigation because it is bound by the Privacy Act. The investigation has been completed and the outcome will be determined within two or three months, according to Neil Talbott, chief of media relations.

Archibald said Nicholson was 'offered an Article 15 and accepted.' An Article 15 is an administrative regulation that covers a broad range of violations and is not open to the public, unlike a court martial.

Nicholson is still stationed at the academy, but he has not had contact with cadets for several weeks, Talbott said.

'His contact with cadets has ceased, as well as his duties as a chaplain,' Talbott said.

Archibald, a reserve officer who splits her time between Tucson and Utah, said Thursday that the academy is trying to give the public the impression that her sexual relationship is an isolated incident that occurred 16 years ago.

'Actually, what they focused on is what his behavior has been in the last six months,' Archibald said. 'There is another victim that has given testimony.'

Both Cusick and Archibald believe Nicholson was 'tipped off' to the investigation. Archibald said that even though she had not heard from Nicholson since last summer, he called on Nov. 10, the very day the academy decided to pursue an investigation.

'I hadn't had any contact with him for a number of weeks. He called up and very nervously asked me how things were going and how I was doing. My attorney had advised me that he might be calling and that I should not be talking to him. When I told him I could not talk to him, that was pretty much all the confirmation he needed,' Archibald said.

Cusick said Archibald had seen letters in Nicholson's home that had been written to him by other women.

'We have reason to believe that there was a substantial number of letters in his home that Susan had seen,' Cusick said. 'The letters would be quite incriminating. And when they went to look for them, they were not there. ... You have to ask yourself, why when they went to look were they not there? I do have my suspicions about that, but I wouldn't have any evidence as to any particular person,' Cusick said.

Cusick said he believes Nicholson's home was searched in December.


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