Chief Master Sgt. William Gurney told Air Force investigators that he had improper relationships with six female airmen, then conceded his behavior would almost certainly end his career.
Gurney, then the command chief of Air Force Materiel Command, made the admission Nov. 13, 2009, during a two-hour interrogation conducted by two agents from the Office of Special Investigations; OSI began looking into Gurney’s conduct after a senior airman accused the command chief of groping her on three occasions. The session took place at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, the headquarters of AFMC and where Gurney is stationed.
“For me, it’s the end of the road,” Gurney told the agents. “It’s not the end of the world, but this will terminate my 26 years of service.”
Prosecutors played a video of interview before resting their case Wednesday, the third day of Gurney’s court-martial. The defense used its case to try to discredit the senior airman who brought the initial charges against Gurney.
Air Force Times is not naming her because she is the alleged victim of sex-based crime.
Gurney is being tried on five sex-related criminal charges — one count of illegal sexual contact, and two counts each of maltreatment and misuse of position. He had faced 19 charges involving 10 female airmen but pleaded guilty to 13 specifications, including seven counts of dereliction of duty and four counts of adultery. The military judge also dismissed one count Monday, the first day of the trial.
Lawyers will present their closing arguments Thursday morning, and then the six-officer jury will decide the chief’s fate. A vote of at least four of the officers, who range in rank from colonel to captain, is necessary for a conviction. The jury also will decide Gurney’s sentence.
‘I’m sure I’m not the only one’
At the start of the interrogation with OSI, Gurney appeared cool and confident, giving only tidbits of information to Special Agent Brian McElhenny; as the minutes ticked by, McElhenny slowly and steadily extracted damning information from Gurney.
At times, Gurney slumped over and buried his hands in his face; he never asked for a lawyer.
Gurney’s first admission of inappropriate behavior came after McElhenny asked him about his text messages to the senior airman.
Gurney admitted to sending about 10 to 20 “flirty” messages; McElhenny told Gurney that he believed there was more to the story.
Gurney stayed silent for almost 30 seconds.
“Man to man,” McElhenny prodded Gurney.
Another 25 seconds went by before Gurney finally spoke: “In hindsight, knowing what I know now, I obviously crossed the line I shouldn’t have crossed in sending texts to her.”
Then, Gurney acknowledged the improper relationships, including the exchange of sexually charged text messages and semi-nude and nude photographs as well as threesomes with one of the women and his wife.
Gurney has already pleaded guilty to either a dereliction of duty or an adultery charge stemming from his relationship with four of the women.
One woman, a master sergeant, has not been named in any allegation.
During the interrogation, Gurney denied groping the breasts of the senior airman whose complaint sparked the investigation and led to the most serious charge against him, illegal sexual contact. He admitted, though, that he might have grabbed her buttocks.
The senior airman alleges Gurney groped her breasts and buttocks, and she testified Tuesday that she resisted each advance; Gurney told investigators there was never any pushback from the airman.
Gurney, however, admitted, he and the senior airman exchanged sexually charged texts and photographs — including a shot of his penis. He also said they kissed in his office during an August 2009 visit to Wright-Patterson, but the senior airman testified she turned away.
“In the position I’m in and the position she’s in,” he said, “I should’ve seen this train wreck coming.”
He displayed frustration at times during the interview.
“You say it’s not the worst thing in the world,” he said, “but if I were a staff sergeant, no one would really give a s—. I’m sure I’m not the only one in the Air Force who does this.”
Gurney told McElhenny that AFMC commander Gen. Donald Hoffman would almost certainly fire him when the allegations emerged.
Hoffman relieved Gurney later that day.
Everyone caught in a situation similar to Gurney’s “has been asked to look for different employment,” he said. “And that’s the position I put myself in.”
Accuser’s veracity questioned
The defense used its case to portray the senior airman who first accused Gurney as a liar who repeatedly changed her story.
Capt. Kenneth Chapman, the airman’s former section commander, testified the airman first told him about Gurney’s text messages in November. Chapman, who said he was disturbed at the messages’ content, asked the airman if she had responded to the messages. She said no.
The airman testified she thought the question pertained to the specific messages she showed the captain. But when Chapman later discovered she had replied to him and sent photos of herself, he determined “she was not a truthful individual.”
The airman also told Chapman about a meeting where Gurney touched her against her will but later denied Gurney groped her during her visit to his office at Wright-Patterson, Chapman testified.
The woman testified earlier in the trial he groped her during that August 2009 visit to AFMC headquarters and later that night.
The defense played a video deposition of Staff Sgt. Janeth Cubeddu, the airman’s former supervisor, who called her “difficult to manage” and listed multiple occasions where the airman failed to perform adequately on her job.
And a former course director for the airman, Staff Sgt. Aprille White, testified the airman was excited to give Gurney a tour of her laboratory just weeks after the first alleged groping occurred. She told White she considered the chief a friend.
The airman also appeared to brag about the Gurney case to her when the news first broke, saying she was involved in a big deal “and everyone would know what was going on,” White said.
“[The airman] has a problem with honesty,” she concluded.
But the airman’s current supervisor, Lt. Angela Waterworth, said the woman has been a good and honest employee for the nine months she has overseen her work.