Decorated Colonel Whose Career Was Destroyed By Sexual Assault Allegation Is Vindicated by Jury

“Riggins was not charged, but he was removed from consideration for promotion to brigadier general.” 

Once upon a time, Colonel David “Wil” Riggins was enjoying a highly decorated career as an Army officer. A graduate of West Point, Riggins had served in both Afghanistan and Iraq. As of 2013, the Colonel was on track for an appointment to Brigadier General. Then, Riggins received a phone call that would change his life and herald the end of his career. In July of 2013, the Army’s Criminal Investigative Division (CID) contacted Riggins to ask him to come in, and to inform him that he was under investigation.

Riggins would come to find out that he was being accused of rape by Susan Shannon of Everett, Washington. The two had served and studied together at West Point from 1983 until 1986. That year, Shannon left West Point. She alleges that she left the school shortly after Riggins raped her. At the time, however, Riggins denied any sexual assault or violence to school officials.

Shannon has stated that both her and her roommate were raped while at West Point. She claims that her rape occurred in 1986 after being supplied with free beer on the West Point campus. Riggins, on the other hand, maintains that they had a short and consensual relationship in 1983, years before the alleged rape.

In 2013, just days after it was announced that Riggins was being considered for promotion to a one-star general, Shannon wrote a story on her blog entitled “The Rape of a Female Cadet at West Point: Me,” which drew the attention of the CID. As the claim was investigated, several discrepancies with Shannon’s story emerged.

First, beer was not allowed on campus. Second, Shannon mentions getting a ride from Riggins in 1986, only he didn’t have a car and wouldn’t have been allowed to drive on campus. The pedestrian tunnel she allegedly emerged from is also unseeable from the road. Shannon further denied the short, consensual relationship in 1983. Shannon also claimed that she wrote her initial blog post without knowledge of Riggins potential promotion to general. One of her own witnesses, however, claims that Shannon made the accusation with knowledge of and intent to derail that promotion.

With sexual assault rightfully coming under more scrutiny, the Army rightfully took the investigation seriously. Investigators interviewed both Shannon and Riggins, who steadfastly maintained his innocence. Ultimately, the CID determined that it could neither disprove or prove Shannon’s allegations.

Riggins was not charged, but he was removed from consideration for promotion to brigadier general. Shortly thereafter, Riggins retired, putting an end to a long and decorated career. However, Riggins also launched a counter-suit against Shannon, accusing her of defamation. That case has now come to an end, with the jury empathetically siding with Riggins.

Riggins was awarded $8.4 million dollars by the jury. $3.4 million was awarded for compensatory damages, including lost wages. $5 million was rewarded for punitive damages. However, this amount will most likely be reduced to approximately $2.3 million. Virginia law limits punitive damages to $350,000, and the compensatory damages are likely to be reduced to around $2 million.

Rape is an immensely serious crime and accusations should always be taken seriously. The resulting defamation suit will only make it more difficult for genuine rape victims to come forward. If Shannon’s accusations were indeed false, the hardest hit victims (besides Riggins and his family) will be victims who have genuinely suffered sexual assault.

False accusations breed skepticism and make it easier to dismiss genuine accusations. They breed doubt and distrust, and make it easier to dismiss witnesses and testimony. Victims -women and men- should feel safe and secure when they come forward with rape accusations. At the same time, anyone who falsely accuses someone of rape should face stern consequences.

As for Shannon, she ultimately left West Point. Shannon would end up graduating from Stony Brook University 1989, and married in 1990. She has three children, and is a stay at home mom. She writes for her own blog, “Short Little Rebel”, frequently about Christianity. Shannon has also raised eyebrows for claims that the Sandy Hook shootings were carried out by the government.

Brian Brinker

Brian Brinker is a political consultant and has an M.A in Global Affairs from American University.

Join the conversation!

We have no tolerance for comments containing violence, racism, vulgarity, profanity, all caps, or discourteous behavior. Thank you for partnering with us to maintain a courteous and useful public environment where we can engage in reasonable discourse.