A soldier with the last name Stoner complained to his superiors about members of his platoon using his room to smoke hash. That ironic twist of fate one day in May 2010 in southern Afghanistan is what ultimately led to Sgt. Darren Jones' court martial, which begins today at Fort Lewis.
The 30-year-old Jones is one of 12 members of the so-called "Kill Team," the infamous U.S. Army Stryker Brigade that allegedly slaughtered Afghan civilians for sport. In addition to assaulting Spc. Justin Stoner, Jones is charged with shooting at three unarmed Afghan civilians.
The attack on Stoner occurred on May 5, 2010, at Forward Operating Base Ramrod in the Maywand District of Kandahar, according to Army charging documents. Days earlier, Stoner had approached his commanding officer and asked to be transferred out of his unit. He complained that several of his fellow soldiers, including Jones, were smoking hashish in his living quarters. Stoner was reportedly worried that if group was caught getting high, he would be the one held accountable.
What Stoner didn't mention at the time was that at least five of his comrades--led by Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, army prosecutors allege--were murdering Afghan civilians, taking their fingers, skulls, and teeth for war trophies, and photographing themselves with the mutilated bodies.
Word of Stoner's loose lips quickly spread throughout the platoon. In previous testimony, Stoner described himself as an outcast in his squad, disliked by "the good ol' boys clique." Branded a snitch, six soldiers came to Stoner's room to exact revenge.
Stoner was severely beaten. He claims that his fellow soldiers kicked him in the groin, punched him, spat on his face, and called him a rat. He singled out Jones, testifying in a preliminary hearing last December that he had heard the sergeant from Pomona, Calif., say during the attack, "How could you do this to the platoon?"
A few hours after the beating, Stoner has claimed, Gibbs and Spc. Jeremy Morlock came calling. Stoner testified previously that Gibbs "started off calm and almost polite, saying he's sorry that had to happen." According to Stoner, Gibbs held a piece of cloth in his hands while he talked. At the end of the conversation, Gibbs unfolded the fabric. In it was a finger the sergeant had harvested from the corpse of a murdered Afghan. Stoner claims that Gibbs told him to keep his mouth shut, and added, "'I'd hate for you to wind up like this guy.'"
As a consequence of Stoner's complaints about drug use in his platoon, the Army began the investigation that eventually uncovered a gruesome assortment of atrocities committed by the rogue soldiers in the Fort Lewis-based Stryker Brigade. Though Jones has not been directly linked to any of the killings of unarmed civilians, he is charged with "an assault upon three males of apparent Afghan descent by shooting at them with a dangerous weapon."
Jones was initially charged with using hash during his deployment, but the charge was dropped when Army prosecutors couldn't get anyone to testify that they actually saw Jones getting high. He is also charged with assaulting Stoner, which the Army alleges was intended to "impede an investigation" of the crimes committed by Gibbs and the others.
When Jones appeared in court in December, according to the Tacoma News Tribune, his attorney conceded that he took part in the attack on Stoner, but denied that it was meant to silence Stoner from speaking about about the Kill Team. The attorney, Kevin McDermott, said that Jones and the others had beaten up Stoner simply because he was unpopular, a lesser crime that does not warrant a court martial.