Col. David ‚ÄúWil‚ÄĚ Riggins, after a highly decorated Army career that included multiple tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, was on the verge of promotion to brigadier general in July 2013 when he got a phone call at the Pentagon from the Army‚Äôs Criminal Investigative Division to come in for a meeting. Once there, he learned that a blogger in Washington state had just accused him of raping her, when both were cadets at West Point in 1986. An investigation was underway.
Riggins waived his right to an attorney and immediately gave a statement denying any sexual assault of the woman, Susan Shannon of Everett, Wash. Shannon also cooperated with the CID investigation, which could not ‚Äúprove or disprove Ms. Shannon‚Äôs allegation she was raped,‚ÄĚ the CID report concluded. But in the spring of 2014, with the armed forces facing heavy criticism for their handling of sexual assault cases, Secretary of the Army John McHugh recommended removing Riggins from the list for promotion to general. Riggins promptly retired.
Then, Riggins sued Shannon for defamation, claiming that every aspect of her rape claim on the West Point campus was ‚Äúprovably false,‚ÄĚ and that she wrote two blog posts and a Facebook post ‚Äúto intentionally derail [his] promotion‚ÄĚ to brigadier general. During a six-day trial that ended Aug. 1, a jury in Fairfax County, Va., heard from both Riggins and Shannon at length. And after 2¬Ĺ hours of deliberation, they sided emphatically with Riggins, awarding him $8.4 million in damages, an extraordinary amount for a defamation case between two private citizens. The jury ordered Shannon to pay $3.4 million in compensatory damages for injury to his reputation and lost wages, and $5 million in punitive damages, ‚Äúto make sure nothing like this will ever happen again,‚ÄĚ according to one of the jurors.
She has acknowledged staking out controversial positions on her blog, including that the mass school shooting in Newtown, Conn., was ‚Äúa planned event‚ÄĚ and that ‚ÄúI believe our GOVERNMENT shot those kids and teachers and used Adam Lanza and his family to pull it off.‚ÄĚ