Lt. Col. Christopher Downey filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army for his “forced retirement discharge” stemming from a 2012 alleged assault incident.
Downey had been accused of assaulting an enlisted man who was filming two female officers – a captain and a lieutenant, both in uniform – kissing on the dance floor at a formal Army ball at Fort Drum, New York. The legal action against Downey cites that the enlisted man’s nose was broken during the incident, which Downey’s lawsuit refutes. The enlisted man did not file charges at the time.
But it is the behavior of the lesbians, not the man filming them, which is the main focus of the lawsuit and the ensuing media attention. Downey claims that the women were engaged in a scene “from a Spring Break party” with “prolonged French kissing," “groping” and “disrobing.” He maintains that when he tried to stop the enlisted man from filming, he “accidentally” hit the man in the nose with his camera, according to a report.
The incident took place seven months after the official end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” the Clinton-era ban on gays and lesbians in the armed services. Downey claims that his discharge is “politically motivated” and has “destroyed his good reputation and an otherwise promising military career.” The lawsuit maintains that the women’s behavior violated Army rules against “inappropriate displays of public affection” and that Downey’s intervention on the dance floor was warranted, irrespective of the dancers’ gender or orientation.
Thomas More Law Center, the law firm representing Downey, is a notoriously conservative firm that specializes in Christian causes. Military personnel commenting on the case on Reddit note that wanton displays of public affection are highly common at formal events and that this particular incident incited Downey’s ire is likely indicative of prejudice.
Since the lawsuit was filed on Nov. 12, much of the media coverage has focused on Downey’s Army career as an aviator, which was amply detailed by the document filed in the Alexandria, Virginia, court. In addition, the lawsuit cites an incident that took place while Downey was deployed in Afghanistan, where he protected female soldiers from being unknowingly filmed showering by an enlisted male officer. The incident, which “was fresh on LTC Downey’s mind,” demonstrates that he is “keenly aware of the devastating impact” it could have caused the women, and, as such, Downey felt compelled to prevent a video of the lesbians surfacing on social media.
Video or not, the story quickly found its way to the Internet when one of the women, who was already in the process of leaving the Army, posted a comment on a blog: “I was just shoved across the dance floor by my command sergeant major for being gay … lovely end to my active duty career.”