Criminal charges were dismissed Thursday against U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Walter Taylor, who had faced potential imprisonment for negligent homicide in the 2011 death of a civilian doctor in Afghanistan.
Col. Darren L. Werner, commander of the 16th Sustainment Brigade in Bamberg, Germany, released a charge sheet dismissing all counts after an investigating officer found that there was insufficient evidence to support the charges.
The case has sparked widespread debate over the Army’s rules of engagement in Afghanistan, which now require soldiers to positively establish that a target is a non-civilian with hostile intent before using their weapons. Rarely in the past have service members faced homicide charges for split-second decisions made in the heat of combat.
Taylor, 31, has said he had only seconds to decide whether an unidentified figure emerging from a car near a shootout with insurgents was about to detonate another bomb. The shootout had erupted after a roadside bomb seriously injured five other soldiers.
As it happened, the person he fatally shot was the head of the obstetrics department at a nearby hospital, returning with her family from a wedding.
“It’s not just a victory for me, it’s a victory for all the soldiers,” Taylor said in an interview Thursday. “For all the soldiers that did great things down range (in Afghanistan). They don’t have to think in their mind that one of their comrades was being done wrong.”
A large number of soldiers from Taylor’s platoon, charged with clearing explosives along the main roads between Kabul and Kandahar, had risen to support Taylor after the charges were filed.
“I got nothing but respect for him,” Spc. Wayne Wedgeworth, who was one of those injured in the explosion on the day of the firefight, said in an earlier interview. “He fought when he had to fight. He did not back down. He fought the enemy off.”
The charges of negligent homicide and dereliction of duty could have led to three years of imprisonment. Army prosecutors, who had alleged Taylor should have been more careful to make a positive identification before firing his weapon, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
An investigating officer who heard three days worth of testimony in a report last week concluded that a reasonable person might well have concluded that the figure Taylor shot was a threat. He said there was not adequate evidence to support criminal charges.
Taylor, who was on his fourth combat deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan, was seriously injured 10 days after the firefight when a rocket-propelled grenade slammed into his vehicle, severely disfiguring his face.
The Article 32 preliminary hearing on the criminal charges held in Germany in June required a postponement of his reconstructive surgery. Taylor said Thursday he is planning soon to move to Texas to begin the next round of at least half a dozen surgeries.
After that, he said, he hopes to stay in the Army, win a promotion to first sergeant and join a warrior transition unit to help injured soldiers get medical care, counseling and benefits.
“It’s a lot of responsibility, but if you have a heart and care about soldiers, it shouldn’t be a hard job. It’d be rewarding, physically and mentally,” he said.
Taylor’s mother, Dottie Taylor, who lives in Riverview, Fla., said her church community was celebrating.
“We are on cloud nine. I tell you, between the church people and all of us praying, it’s just been such a burden on this family,” she said Thursday. “We just thank God that everything is over with and he can go on with his surgery and go on with his life.”
She said she isn’t surprised that her son wants to stay in the Army. “He’s a soldier’s soldier, you know what I’m saying?” she said. “He’s not one of the ones that want to give up.”