ERIC MONTALVO, FOUNDING PARTNER OF THE FEDERAL PRACTICE GROUP, SPEAKS WITH THE WAR HORSE ABOUT HIS CLIENT NOT RECEIVING PROPER TREATMENT OR RESPECT
Posted By fedpractice || 3-Dec-2020
Gag Order: How Marine Corps Culture Silenced a Victim of Sexual Assault
DECEMBER 1, 2020
After a long week at work in August 2015, Thae Ohu relaxed with friends at a barracks party in Okinawa. She felt safe with them, and she had more than a couple of drinks.
Hours later, several Marines discovered Ohu passed out in a grassy field, and the person Ohu had been out with that night helped carry her back to another Marine’s barracks room. They laid her in a bed, placed a trash can beside her in case she had to vomit, and returned outside to continue drinking.
When Ohu awoke later that night, she says a sergeant was on top of her removing her clothes. And as he began having sex with her limp body, Ohu thought to herself, “I am getting raped and I can’t believe it’s him,” she later wrote in her notebook. “He promised me I wouldn’t be disappointed being under him.” She asked herself, according to her notebook, if this is what he meant.
During the assault, Ohu slipped in and out of consciousness. “I only can remember the fear of my naked body,” she wrote. “The weight of his body and the hot disgusting breath on me.”
In addition to police reports and medical records, multiple pages of Ohu’s handwritten accounts detail her assault and its fallout.
The next morning, according to Ohu’s handwritten accounts, she awoke confused and scared. She was naked and smelled bile in the air. Her eyes were swollen and her hair was tangled. Her stomach throbbed with pain. And as she stood by the sink looking into the mirror, her new reality set in. She had been raped.
She drove on. After the assault, she moved up the ranks, earned several awards and was regarded as a “squared-away Marine” by her most senior enlisted leader. During Ohu’s seven-year career, she graduated from multiple military courses and was promoted to the prized rank of sergeant.
But Ohu’s achievements belied that a tap dance toward mental illness that had begun in her childhood continued, choreographed by the people ostensibly there to help: The recruiter who overlooked her medical and psychological history, and told her to stay off her medications for a year to qualify her for duty. The sergeant who said he’d help her if she performed sexual favors. The lawyer who oversaw the investigation into her allegation of rape that was later called “anemic.” The co-workers who taunted her. The commanders who released her on her own recognizance—three times—after she was hospitalized for trying to take her own life. And finally, the same man who oversaw the investigation of her rape case placed her in jail for assault—a charge even the alleged victim calls retaliatory. Cpl. Thae Ohu’s official Marine Corps photograph. Courtesy of Pan Phyu.
Each time she asked for help, she was left on her own to spin further out of control until a breakup led to violence—and, ultimately, charges including attempted murder. Ohu was criminally charged, but those around her say she was simply a vulnerable young woman in desperate need of mental health care.
“There is no respect for mental health or emotional health,” said her older sister, Pan Phyu. “[Leaders] don’t give a shit. They flat-out saw she was suicidal and needed help. Instead of doing their job … they didn’t back her up. … They left a Marine behind. … The whole military is failing.”
For decades, advocates, lawmakers, and veterans alike have brought attention to systemic issues in how the military not only addresses mental health in uniform, but how defense officials investigate and prosecute sex crimes. Now, as Ohu sits in a military jail cell battling mental illness as she awaits her next court martial hearing on Dec. 7—where a gag order will be considered—her lawyer says her story represents that of many survivors of military sexual assault.
Throughout the course of this investigation, The War Horse interviewed family members and Marines who served alongside Ohu. Her active-duty ex-boyfriend provided a five-page statement detailing her years of erratic behavior and mental illness in uniform. In addition to police reports and medical records, a service member close to the case provided multiple pages of Ohu’s handwritten accounts detailing her assault and its fallout.
Ohu’s defense attorney, Eric Montalvo, says it’s the same old story: A woman arrives ready to change her life by earning the title of Marine—to build a career steadied by tradition and braced by accountability and discipline. But like many of the tens of thousands of servicemen and women each year who struggle with mental illness after military sexual assault, Ohu’s plans spiraled off course as she battled post-traumatic stress, which only worsened when, over and over, she learned nobody cared.
“Marines don’t leave anyone behind,” said Montalvo, a former judge advocate and 21-year Marine veteran. “The Corps is doing just that in cases involving mental health and sexual assault. We know how to do better and we should.”
“She Was Locked on”
In 1993, amid widespread human rights violations in her family’s native country of Burma, Ohu was born in Thailand into a family of political refugees seeking exile in a Burmese refugee camp. For roughly four years, the family endured hunger and poverty, living in a violent farming community. During one explosion, Ohu’s older sister Phyu was wounded. “It was simple,” she said during a phone interview. “But dangerous.”
Ohu was born in Thailand into a family of political refugees seeking exile. Courtesy of Pan Phyu.
Three years after Ohu was born in 1996, the family immigrated to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where they lived in a refugee community and Ohu began her path to U.S. citizenship. According to her older sister, when Ohu, the youngest daughter, began elementary school, she fell in love with cheerleading and soccer. In her spare time, she said Ohu volunteered at the police department and dreamed of being elected to Congress. In high school, Ohu struggled with her classes. She was molested by a family friend and bounced between foster homes and inpatient psychiatric facilities. To cope, she focused on helping others and became an anti-bullying advocate, even speaking at a TedX event.
“I remember when she was younger, she went through some pretty horrific things,” said Phyu, who described similar abuse during her own upbringing. “I was the black sheep. … I wasn’t there for my sister like she needed.”
In 2011, 18 years after the family arrived in America, Ohu’s older sister enlisted in the Navy, where she’s now an active-duty petty officer. After Phyu’s graduation, Ohu visited San Diego to reconnect with her sister and explore the base. “I may be the big sister, but she will always, always be my hero,” Phyu said on social media. She told The War Horse that she joined the Navy partly to help provide a better life for Ohu. The following year, to the surprise of Phyu and with a mental health waiver from the Defense Department that Phyu said never should have been granted, Ohu enlisted in the Marine Corps. “She wanted to make our father proud,” Phyu said. She also wanted an escape from rural Indiana. In July 2013, she traveled to Parris Island to earn her eagle, globe, and anchor.
In 2013, Ohu traveled to Parris Island where she was assigned to Fourth Recruit Training Battalion. Courtesy of Pan Phyu.
As for many new recruits, the transition from civilian to Marine would not be easy. Following 13 weeks of boot camp, Ohu attended combat training in eastern North Carolina and was then sent to study as a personnel administrative specialist. Three months later, in January 2014, Ohu was assigned to her first duty station, Camp Butler in Okinawa, Japan. According to her fellow Marines, shortly after her arrival Ohu again experienced psychological issues and enrolled herself in therapy. According to one of Ohu’s Marine mentors, during her meeting with the military counselor—which the mentor said Ohu believed was confidential—she expressed that she was struggling with traumatic childhood memories, as well as with transitioning to active duty in a foreign country. Following Ohu’s session in 2014, a counselor contacted the two senior Marines on the base and recommended that Ohu be immediately processed for a medical separation.
“She said [Ohu] was an accident waiting to happen,” said one of those senior Marines, Sgt. Major Jerry Bates, during a phone interview. Now retired after a 27-year career in the Corps, he said that as the senior enlisted Marine on the base, he wanted to meet with Ohu himself. “She was surprised people cared,” Bates said. “She just wanted to talk to someone. She didn’t want to get out of the Marine Corps.”
After Bates helped Ohu, her career appeared to be back on track, but off duty, Ohu frequently self-medicated with alcohol until she was blackout drunk, according to those close to the case. Still, she was promoted and graduated from multiple courses. Ohu was also awarded for good conduct and recognized for exceptional performance. “She was locked on,” Bates said. “A squared-away Marine.”
Ohu (left) in a family portrait with her older sister Pan Phyu (center) and younger sister Kay Yu (right). Courtesy of Pan Phyu.
But in 2015, Bates transferred to a different base. On a weekend in August, shortly after he left, Ohu went out with friends for a night of drinking. When she arrived at a barracks party, she discovered a familiar scene. “There was always alcohol,” she wrote in her notebook. “Always the same group of people that would find any excuse to drink.” For the next few hours, she mingled with friends. “I can’t remember at what point I was so gone that I couldn’t stand on my own [two] feet. I couldn’t remember when the alcohol was too much,” Ohu wrote. “Maybe I felt the need to sleep and was laying down somewhere. … I can’t remember how I got back.”
By the end of the night, she was raped by her superior, she said, who is now a staff sergeant stationed with the legal division of the Pentagon. Because she was due to transfer to a new duty station in fewer than four months, she did not immediately file a police report about the assault to the military or mention it to her family, according to an official statement she gave later. And because she didn’t report it, she continued to report directly to the man she said raped her. According to a Marine involved in the case, shortly after her assault, she shared the details with a senior Naval officer and a group of Marines. Other military records from Ohu’s time in uniform also help support her allegations, the Marine said.
Well before she reported it officially, Ohu confided in her friend Sgt. Jennifer Charlson, the Marine Ohu went out with the night Ohu says she was assaulted. Charlson was Ohu’s roommate during the months following her assault. The two frequently hung out with each other and discussed issues at work. During a phone interview, Charlson said that Ohu, who was a bridesmaid in her wedding years after the assault, never mentioned being sexually assaulted while they were stationed together in Japan, but she added that it was the beginning of their friendship. Over the years, the two would frequently go to Sunday worship together and shared a passion for sampling food at new restaurants. Ohu fell in love with photography and wanted to open her own food truck when her time in the Corps was over, Charlson said.
“Thae was a compassionate and personable friend,” said Charlson, who is now assigned to the Space Force. “She had big dreams. Overall, she has her quirks, like many of us, but she’s someone you know you can depend on.”
“You Can’t Fight Battles All by Yourself”
In December 2015, Ohu was reassigned to Marine Corps Detachment Dam Neck in Virginia. Over the next two years, by nearly all accounts, Ohu excelled at her job and was liked by her peers. Her career appeared to be on track. But messages she sent on social media from April 2019 reveal a changing story. “I’m just hitting a low right now and it’s hard to just get out of it today,” she wrote to Sgt. Maj. Bates on Facebook. “It’s like all at once hitting me and I’m trying so hard to be positive in front of everyone but today I felt myself hurting in my heart. I feel weak feeling this way.”
Ohu (center) stands with her father Ahr Yu (left) and sister Pan Phyu after she earns the title of Marine. Courtesy of Pan Phyu.
The following month, in May 2019, Ohu recognized she was in crisis and once again enrolled in mental health care. Later that year, Ohu said she told a master sergeant that Marines were spreading malicious rumors about her health care appointments, according to her ex-boyfriend Michael Hinesley’s statement.
“Her command failed her in regards to keeping her medical information private, as is her right under the Privacy Act of 1974,” wrote Hinesley in a statement to police that he provided to The War Horse. “Her leadership harassed her about her appointments and she was interrupted by her command during her treatments. She felt guilty for getting the help that she needs.” As a result, he said, “Her life and her mental health began to deteriorate more and more.”
That same spring, Ohu’s military doctors began the process for her medical retirement after she was diagnosed with multiple mental illnesses, according to medical records provided by her family.
Following anonymous complaints and an investigation, Ohu was demoted from the rank of sergeant to corporal. Courtesy of Pan Phyu.
Ohu wrote about her symptoms and treatments in her medical retirement application. She had been diagnosed with “persistent depressive disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and post traumatic stress disorder” that stemmed from her military sexual assault years earlier, she noted. She felt angry and depressed. Helpless and isolated.
“I sought after mental health services off base due to my distrust in the military system and past experiences that stemmed from a failure of procedures in Okinawa in 2014,” Ohu wrote. “I noticed how my ongoing issues were increasingly effecting [sic] my performance, work ethic, personal life, and the environment around me after I left Okinawa. I kept quiet and continue[d] to choose work over my wellbeing while I was on Okinawa and continued that pattern for my duration here stateside.”
Her psychologist, a Navy commander, ranked Ohu’s impairment as “severe” and noted that she was actively experiencing gaps in thought processing, had compromised judgment, and obsessively ruminated about her safety, copies of medical records released by her family show. During their sessions, Ohu’s doctor documented that she had a family history of paranoid schizophrenia, that Ohu was molested as a child, and that she had experienced a miscarriage as a teenager. “The subsequent mental health treatment for which she received a waiver in order to enlist in the Marine Corps,” the doctor wrote. “OF CRITICALLY IMPORTANT NOTE, she did not demonstrate the emergence of the syndrome-structured and multi-faceted psychiatric symptom patterns [sic]… until after her experience of military sexual assault while stationed in Okinawa.”
To treat her conditions, her health care team prescribed antidepressants, seizure medications, and anxiety pills. Those medications are known to cause confusion and poor judgment. Additionally, her duloxetine prescription is marked with a black-box warning from the FDA that highlights a known connection to an increase in suicidal thoughts, aggression, insomnia, and mania—all symptoms Ohu exhibited.
Ohu poses for a photo during a weekend vacation with then-boyfriend Michael Hinesley. Courtesy of Michael Hinesley.
The more Ohu deteriorated mentally the less her superiors supported her, Hinesley said in both his statement and interviews. Ohu experienced severe paranoia and felt like her entire unit had turned on her. She developed a “constant state of self-preservation.” To cope, she self-medicated with alcohol more heavily, the Marines closest to her said.
When she needed a sympathetic ear, she opened up to one of her leaders. When she asked the sergeant to speak up on her behalf, he agreed, but only in exchange for sexual favors, she wrote in her notebook. “He proceeded to treat me like shit.”
As Ohu began her medical retirement process, fellow Marines accused her of malingering. Over the next few months, Ohu’s leaders investigated her after anonymous bullying allegations surfaced. Ohu confronted a junior Marine for being disrespectful to leaders, according to a report. Ohu had yelled at her subordinate, calling her “lazy, inefficient, and not having pride in her work,” the report states, as well as describing how Ohu punished the Marine by making her file additional paperwork. As the confrontation intensified, a senior Marine had to defuse the situation. During the investigation, 12 Marines provided statements about Ohu’s character, records show. Ohu refuted the claims but was reduced in rank from sergeant to corporal.
Following her demotion, Ohu sat in her car and posted a video to Facebook. “You can’t fight battles all by yourself and you can’t hold everything in all by yourself,” she said. “It takes a lot for you to break down and it takes so much out of you.”
“I’m not just a Marine,” she continued. “I’m Thae Ohu. I’m still me and I have a life ahead of me, and whether the Marine Corps accepts me or not … I’m still here and I still got fight in me. I still have this passion and desire to still be better. … This is not going to defeat me.”
“It’s Time to Get Out”
In the spring of 2019, Ohu spoke with two senior Marines in her unit about the assault at her previous duty station, Hinesley said. They reassured her that her privacy would be respected; however, rumors quickly spread in the unit about the rape.
As she worked her way through the medical retirement process, Ohu filed an unrestricted report of sexual assault, authorizing Ohu’s senior leadership to request that officials with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service launch an investigation into Ohu’s rape allegations. On Sept. 19, 2019, Ohu messaged Bates, her former sergeant major in Okinawa. “I have learned that I love the Marines but events in the military is hard to forget [sic],” she wrote. “I want to grow stronger and feel like I [sic] worthy. The Corps was good to me, but it’s time to get out.”
During more than 30 minutes on two phone calls with The War Horse, the Marine Ohu accused of rape denied the allegations. He described the NCIS investigation as “giant” and said that it proves his innocence. “All the people involved were talked to,” he said.
Ohu and her sister Kay Yu pose during a holiday together while both were serving on active duty. Courtesy of Pan Phyu.
“The reason why I’m hesitant to comment on our case is because she obviously has a pending case, and I work in the legal field, and I know how these things can turn against her,” the accused Marine said. “And I don’t want her to be punished for something like that. … I hope that if she was assaulted, she finds peace and justice at some point.” The Marine declined to provide a copy of the report to The War Horse to verify his claims.
However, The War Horse reviewed the interim NCIS report about Ohu’s rape allegations. None of the witnesses who were there that night, including Marines who told The War Horse they were interviewed by investigators, were included in the report. The document is eight pages long. The accused Marine invoked his right to remain silent and did not provide a statement to investigators.
A total of three other Marines were interviewed. All outranked Ohu. Two were men she’d briefly dated. All were male. All made derogatory remarks.
None of them attended the barracks party the night Ohu says she was raped.
The two NCIS agents who conducted the investigation declined to comment.
Ohu’s symptoms continued to intensify, and, on Oct. 2, Ohu was given a performance evaluation by a superior who noted she was “having ongoing issues with her lack of professionalism,” often screaming and yelling at senior leadership. According to the document, “a lot of this is directly attributed to her current mental condition,” and Ohu was told future outbursts “will not be tolerated.” Despite her struggles, in the same performance evaluation, her leader lauded her proficiency and initiative, and heralded Ohu for possessing “the knowledge of a Marine far above her current pay grade.” The document reveals that Marines of all ranks sought out Ohu to handle the most complicated administrative tasks.
According to the counseling sheet, “a lot of this is directly attributed to her current mental condition,” and Ohu was told future outbursts “will not be tolerated.” Courtesy of Pan Phyu.
When Ohu received her review, she filed a rebuttal with her chain of command immediately and said that the narrative did not accurately represent the events that took place. “I have expressed the work being an overload” to her limited-duty restrictions, Ohu wrote, but said that her command did not address the unit’s toxic workplace culture.
As Ohu’s medical retirement case made its way through the system, she was rated 70% disabled by the Defense Department and Veterans Affairs, and, as a result of her “chronic” mental illnesses, Ohu was deemed unfit for continued military service.
Around the same time, she began dating a fellow noncommissioned officer named Michael Hinesley. The two bonded over their love of photography, and they shot still images together at his friend’s wedding.
Ohu (left) attends the wedding of Jennifer Charlson (center), a Marine she served alongside in Okinawa. Courtesy of Jennifer Charlson.
“Thae and I had shared interests, we had shared values, and during the time we got to know each other more, we realized we had similar ambitions,” Hinesley wrote in a text message to The War Horse. “Those ambitions drew us closer and closer.” The two also attended church together every weekend, he wrote. Throughout her treatments, Ohu was compliant with prescriptions, Hinesley said during a phone call. But by November, Ohu’s “severe mental breakdowns” started and she admitted herself to the mental health ward at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Hinesley said in a later statement to news media. She spent the Thanksgiving holiday that year at the ward. When Hinesley visited her, he said it seemed like “her mind began to deteriorate” and outbursts occurred more frequently. “She would wake up petrified and scared” and “would blankly stare at the wall,” he wrote in his statement to media. “[Ohu] expressed to me that she was losing control more and more each day and did not know what to do.”
In March 2020, Ohu was unanimously approved for medical retirement by a board of military physicians. Courtesy of Pan Phyu.
Ohu “never wanted to go back to work because of how toxic her work environment was,” Hinesley said in his statement to the media. “Every time she walked into work, it was as if a heavy weight was placed on her shoulders.” During their time dating, “she felt unappreciated, ostracized, overworked, accused of malingering, and that her work environment was not conducive to her mental health recovery,” Hinesley said.
On Feb. 11, 2020, Ohu picked up Hinesley from work and confided in him that she was suicidal. Ohu became so emotional that the two pulled into a Virginia Beach neighborhood where Hinesley called Ohu’s senior officers to inform them of her rapidly declining mental health, Hinesley said during a phone interview. As the two sat on the roadside, Ohu fled the vehicle and ran into oncoming traffic where she dodged multiple vehicles and collapsed on the shoulder. As Ohu sobbed and Hinesley consoled her, police officers arrived and escorted her to Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, where she was admitted for evaluation. Later that night, she was discharged from the hospital.
“A Plea for Help”
Two months later, on April 1, a board of senior military physicians unanimously recommended Ohu for medical retirement. According to their findings, medical records thoroughly documented her mental illness, and the board noted that her chronic condition “interferes significantly” with Ohu’s ability to remain on active duty and that her access to firearms should be restricted.
In March 2020, Ohu was unanimously approved for medical retirement by a board of military physicians. Courtesy of Pan Phyu.
Four days later, on April 5, Ohu’s mental health deteriorated so much that Hinesley broke up with her. “I couldn’t handle it anymore,” Hinesley wrote in his statement. “I felt the healthiest option was to leave for us to decompress, to breathe.” As he sat in a parking lot, Ohu messaged him “relentlessly,” he said. “She was becoming self-destructive and hard to communicate with.”
After Ohu seemed to calm down, Hinesley said he drove to the home they shared and confronted her, asking her to leave. She obliged; however, she returned minutes later. Ohu rushed inside, grabbed two large chef knives, and threatened to kill him, Hinesley wrote in his statement. He ran to his bedroom and barricaded the door with his body. When the blades began to pierce through the wooden door, Hinesley called 911 and patiently waited behind the door for Ohu to calm down. When officers arrived, they apprehended Ohu and found Hinesley in his bedroom. Immediately, Hinesley and the couple’s neighbors advocated for Ohu to be admitted to a mental health facility, he said. Instead, Ohu was arrested. She was released on bond hours later on the condition that she receive outpatient care at Portsmouth Naval Hospital.
That same week, the military placed a restraining order on Ohu restricting all contact with Hinesley. Two weeks later, Ohu violated the protective order by messaging Hinesley and asking to meet so she could apologize. Hinesley did not report the message, he said. When he ignored Ohu’s text messages, she drove to his home and entered using a spare key. “She was not hostile, she was not forceful, she was only desperate for forgiveness and it seemed to me it was a plea for help,” Hinesley wrote in his statement to the media. “She said she lost control, saw red, and felt that she was attacking her rapist and not me.”
Ohu stands with her fellow Marines after she becomes an administrative specialist. Courtesy of Pan Phyu.
The following morning, on April 21, Ohu did not report for duty on base. Instead, she messaged Hinesley from miles away in historic Jamestown, where she said she planned to kill herself. While he responded with hopeful messages to keep her from hurting herself, Hinesley contacted authorities, who launched an immediate search. A short while later, park rangers found Ohu and she was transported to a psychiatric facility in nearby Williamsburg. Three days later, Ohu was released from the hospital and sent to a long-term psychiatric facility. During her time there, Marines in her unit began to learn about her hospitalization.
In an internal memo to Ohu’s commanding officer, first published by The Virginian Pilot, her first defense attorney wrote that Ohu’s recent psychiatric break was a result of “a bad reaction with her prescribed medication.” Additionally, her former attorney stated that the misconduct allegations were “minor.”
“The Marine Corps has stated and vested interest in protecting and helping our Marines that are victims of sexual assault,” he wrote. “This is a prime opportunity.” He said the allegations “are not serious enough to warrant the command depriving her of her medical retirement.”
An April 2020 internal memo by Ohu’s first defense attorney, first published by The Virginian Pilot, said Ohu’s psychiatric break was a result of “a bad reaction with her prescribed medication.”
In mid-June, Ohu was released from treatment and returned to her unit following another psychiatric break that followed the completion of the NCIS investigation, her medical records show. The anemic NCIS investigation into the sexual assault allegations was another example of the process failing Cpl. Ohu, according to Montalvo, Ohu’s civilian defense attorney.
A second attorney involved with the case agreed with Montalvo. Army veteran Lindsey Knapp, the executive director of Combat Sexual Assault, said military investigators “have ignored critical evidence” and not conducted a legitimate investigation.
“The Navy Criminal Investigative Service created a 10-page document that failed to interview the person who she reported to and several other individuals who became aware of the situation over time,” Knapp said at a press conference. Ohu “is a victim of the worst kind of sexual assault, the betrayal of her fellow Marines.”
“She is suffering at every level by the men in power over her,” Knapp said.
On June 19, Ohu wrote a letter to the inspector general of the Defense Department.
“I had little help and understanding from my leadership while I was going through treatments and this issue still currently exists,” Ohu wrote. “To focus on legal instead of mental health care is wrong.”
She detailed how her command failed her and said that even when her doctors advocated on her behalf, Marine leaders strained her mental health.
Later that day, Ohu was arrested and taken to the Naval Consolidated Brig in Chesapeake where she was placed in pretrial confinement. Military officials then revoked her medical retirement and charged Ohu with nine violations of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, including attempted murder, aggravated assault on an intimate partner, burglary, and communicating a threat. In March 2021, Ohu will be tried at a court martial, potentially stripping her of education benefits, revoking access to mental health care benefits for the rest of her life, and denying her retirement and disability compensation.
“You Could Tell She’s Defeated”
Following her arrest, The Virginian Pilot reported that Ohu was placed on suicide watch in the maximum security section of the jail. She received weekly appointments with mental health providers and eventually graduated to being able to move freely within the female prisoner area.
By the end of her first month in confinement, Ohu was sent back to a mental health facility after she used restraints as weapons and threatened to kill a guard.
Thae Ohu stands on a railroad track during Dec. 2018. Courtesy of Michael Hinesley.Courtesy of Michael Hinesley.
In August, following seven weeks in a mental health facility, Ohu was returned to the brig. Days later, she was taken to a courtroom in Quantico for her preliminary hearing. That morning, according to Hinesley and two additional sources present in the room, roughly 20 people watched as Ohu was escorted into the courtroom in camouflage utilities. Her handcuffs were removed and she sat beside her defense attorney. Her ex-boyfriend Hinesley sat a few rows back and watched her rock back and forth, anxiously massaging her arms with her hands, he said during a phone interview.
“Living with her showed me she is 100% telling the truth,” Hinesley said. As she sat in the courtroom, “You could tell she’s defeated.”
The judge advocate overseeing the case was a Marine lieutenant colonel, and the Marine leading the prosecution oversaw the contentious investigation of Ohu’s rape allegations. In a speech that courtroom witnesses said lasted more than 20 minutes, the officers charged Ohu with nine violations of military law. When contacted by phone, the judge advocate declined to comment. The Corps did not respond to questions about whether Marines in Ohu’s prosecution have served alongside the Marine she accused of rape, a senior Marine in the Corps’ legal administration specialty. When contacted through Marine public affairs, the major prosecuting the case declined to comment.
When the hearing concluded less than an hour after it began, Ohu was escorted from the courtroom and returned to pretrial confinement in a short-term confinement facility lacking psychiatric resources for detainees experiencing severe symptoms.
“They made her out to be a perpetrator when she’s a victim,” Hinesley said. “Her actions were violent, but she’s not the violent person they make her out to be.”
Ohu’s supporters held a Veterans Day press conference outside the commandant’s home at the Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C. Courtesy of Pan Phyu.
As Ohu sat behind bars, her sister Phyu began to file complaints to the Defense Department inspector general. “The brig is not conducive for her to process her trauma,” she said during an awareness event. “The personnel that are attached there are contributing to further harming her overall well-being.”
Months later, on Veterans Day, as Ohu sat behind bars, her father, sister, and the attorneys involved held a press conference outside the commandant’s home at the Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C., about a pending gag order to silence Ohu. Marine Corps officials were invited to the event. None attended.
“There is a culture of toxic masculinity and ‘bro culture’ that denies the mental health breakdowns of female service members,” Phyu said. “How can we have true equality when we deny basic mental healthcare and criminalize those who are showing symptoms?
“Our system is broken and it needs to change.”
* * *
This War Horse investigation was reported by Thomas J. Brennan, edited by Kelly Kennedy, fact-checked by Ben Kalin, and copy-edited by Mitchell Hansen-Dewar. Prepublication review was completed by Baker Hostetler LLP.
Thomas J. Brennan is the founder of The War Horse. His work has appeared in Vanity Fair, Center for Investigative Reporting, and on the front page of The New York Times.