Asher Clark remains the second leading rusher in the history of the Air Force Academy. He was kicked out of school in 2012, less than a week before he was to graduate, on charges of smoking synthetic marijuana. How the academy nailed Clark, and several other athletes on charges ranging from drug use to sexual assault, is a story worth of a spy thriller.
The Colorado Springs Gazette does an admirable job of telling the story of a secret ring of informants among the student body, recruited from among the most vulnerable and all but forced to spy on their classmates. Then, when their usefulness expires or their missions get them into trouble, they are disavowed by their handlers and left to fend for themselves.
This is really the story of Eric Thomas, a soccer player who had the misfortune of attending an off-campus party where some students used drugs. The party was broken up, and two weeks later Thomas was called into an interrogation room with a member of the Office of Special Investigations, a law enforcement agency under the Air Force umbrella.
The agent grilled Thomas and told him that failing to report drug use by his fellow students was a violation of the honor code, and he could face expulsion if he didn't turn informant for OSI. (Another student says her interrogator broke her down and made her tearfully confess to smoking synthetic marijuana two years prior. OSI charged her for that crime, and promised to make it go away if she turned informant.)
Thomas's mission as a secret OSI informant was to infiltrate the "bad crowd." He was to attend parties, take photos, write down names and addresses and transgressions. He would regularly be contacted by his OSI handler to meet in secluded locations like parking lots and abandoned houses and turn over what he had.
Thomas's information was crucial in the expulsion of seven cadets in one swoop, including Falcons tailback Asher Clark.
At 5 a.m. Jan. 12, 2012, academy officers swept into the dorms, banging on the doors of about 50 cadets, confiscating their phones and ordering them to get dressed, and report immediately to OSI.
The main target was a group of about 10 football players thought to be involved in drugs including the star tailback. OSI also brought in a handful of suspected partiers from the basketball team, soaring team and sky diving team. But most of the cadets called in had done nothing wrong and were simply there as decoys, Thomas said.
Thomas sat in the group wearing a hidden recording device.
Over the next 11 hours OSI agents took cadets one by one from a waiting room to interrogation rooms, using information from Thomas to get confessions. One of them was a football player named Ryan Williams, Thomas said. Agents told Williams that his teammate Asher Clark, the team's star tailback, had already told OSI that Williams had smoked spice at a party. OSI seemed to know every detail down to what he had been wearing the night of the party. Seeing he was caught, Williams confessed, then implicated Clark, Thomas said.
In fact, Clark had said nothing to OSI. The information had come from Thomas, who had been at the party.
Thomas's informing put him in danger, and not just from his fellow cadets if they found out what he was doing. He was instrumental in pinning down one student suspected of sexual assault, but it backfired and got Thomas kicked out of the academy as well.
OSI told Thomas to get close to Stephan Claxton, who had four complaints filed against him by female students. But because those complaints were confidential, they couldn't be used to prosecute. OSI needed more evidence.
Claxton went out with a bunch of friends, including a civilian woman engaged to a cadet at the academy. Thomas was not allowed to leave base that weekend, but, he said, OSI urged him to tail Claxton, so he broke the rules and tagged along.
The group went drinking in downtown Colorado Springs. What happened next is according to testimony in the court-martial that followed.
The woman got drunk and passed out in the car they were riding in. No one knew where she lived, so the cadets took her back to the academy to find her fiancé.
At about 2 a.m., Claxton, a basketball player who had been out with them, and Thomas carried her down the empty dorm hall and put her in Thomas' bed.
A drunk female passed out in the room could get them busted, so they went to find her fiancé and have him take her home.
Unbeknownst to them, Claxton stayed behind and locked the door.
Another cadet who had been out with them returned to the room and tried the door.
"Eric, why is your door locked?" he whispered to Thomas, who had started walking down the hall.
Thomas wasn't sure.
He went back and knocked. After about a minute, Claxton opened the door a crack and asked what they wanted, then started to close the door.
Thomas realized what might be happening and pushed his way in. They found the woman, still passed out, with her shirt up and pants undone.
A fight broke out.
Other cadets who heard the noise burst in. Some pulled Claxton off Thomas. Some carried the woman to another room. Thomas fled and called his commander from down the hall.
Claxton was charged with sexual misconduct and sentenced to six months behind bars. The other cadets, including Thomas, were punished for the other infractions, including sneaking off base and having a female in the dorm.
Thomas was stripped of rank and confined to the base. His handler told him not to worry, that they were taking care of him, and all he had to do was not mention OSI. He was told he needed to continue gathering evidence against other cadets. That meant leaving the base, and he was caught again, in direct defiance of his confinement orders.
In the course of his secret work for OSI, Thomas racked up more than enough demerits to warrant being kicked out of school. His handler promised to come to his expulsion hearing, but never showed up.
OSI never acknowledged Thomas's role working for them, even as he continues his appeal to the Secretary of the Air Force. Through a freedom of information act request, the Gazette obtained OSI's file on him. It explains why, after his expulsion, Thomas no longer served as an informant:
Honor and deception [The Gazette]