PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — An Army Reserve corporal can deploy to Afghanistan without the fear he will be arrested when returning home, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled Friday.
Derrick James McDonald, 22, had asked the state's highest court to resolve a conflict between his Army orders to deploy and his local probation requirements.
In response to the emergency request, the court directed Washington County Judge Gayle Nachtigal to modify the terms of the soldier's probation, putting them on hold until he returns from what is expected to be a nine-month deployment.
"He's beyond eager. He's passionately desiring to go," his lawyer, Laura Graser, said Friday. "He wants to make a career out of the military."
McDonald was sentenced in January to five years of probation and sex offender treatment after pleading guilty to two misdemeanor sex offenses. The charges stemmed from a relationship he had with a 15-year-old girl when he was 19.
Before Friday's ruling, McDonald faced a difficult choice. If he failed to join his unit by next week, he could be prosecuted and dishonorably discharged. But if he did go, he would have violated the terms of his Washington County probation and faced arrest.
McDonald asked Judge Nachtigal last month to let him finish the required six months of treatment when he returns from Afghanistan. Several commanding officers testified on his behalf at a hearing.
"He's one of the most competent soldiers I've had assigned to me," said Sgt. 1st Class Patricia Bradford. "He's reliable and accomplishes pretty much every task he's been assigned."
The district attorney's office opposed the request, saying McDonald is an untreated sex offender and "the children of Afghanistan are just as important as the children in the United States."
Nachtigal acknowledged in her Aug. 31 ruling that McDonald is "between a rock and a hard spot" but said the young man put himself in that place by failing to complete treatment since his January conviction.
"If he deploys, he deploys. That's the decision he need to make," the judge said. "But I'm not sanctioning the fact that he is totally untreated at this point and hasn't done what he was supposed to do and had time to do it."
McDonald's unit is training without him in Fort Dix, N.J. The precise date of its flight to Afghanistan is unknown, but McDonald said in court records he must leave Oregon by Sept. 21.
Sgt. 1st Class Jack O'Neal testified that if McDonald did not deploy, he would not be replaced. With one less soldier, "it puts everybody in a little more dangerous situation."