06/20/13 — SJAFB officer accused of abuse still on active duty

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SJAFB officer accused of abuse still on active duty

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on June 20, 2013 1:46 PM

The Air Force has released more information about the man charged Friday by the Goldsboro Police Department with child abuse and neglect lawmen say spans between three and five years.

Seymour Johnson Air Force Base officials confirmed this morning that Maj. Erin James Pickel, 44, is the 4th Fighter Wing Training Squadron chief of device training, a role that brings him into frequent contact with the branch's next generation of aviators.

Pickel and his wife, Jennifer -- the adoptive parents of a 15-year-old boy and 13-year-old girl -- were arrested last week and charged with five counts each of child abuse and felony child neglect that stem from an investigation that dates back to 2008.

They posted bond and showed up to their first court appearance Monday, but declined to comment on their pending legal battle.

Arrest warrants obtained by the News-Argus, however, detailed some of the abuse allegations -- that both children were repeatedly assaulted resulting in "serious physical injury, bleeding lacerations and bruises to the arms and buttocks"; that they were forced to remain outside "in a playhouse" without provisions or proper clothing, heat or electricity, and with "reckless disregard for human life."

4th Commander Col. Jeannie Leavitt, in a statement released by the wing last week, weighed in on the gravity of the allegations.

"The 4th Fighter Wing fully supports the efforts of the Goldsboro Police Department regarding these allegations," her statement read. "Child abuse is absolutely unacceptable. Airmen of the 4th Fighter Wing are held to the highest standards and are expected to uphold those standards at all times, on and off duty."

But the colonel also encouraged the wing -- and public -- to allow the legal system to run its course -- that she and other senior leaders "recognize the accused are innocent until proven guilty."

Pickel, the wing added, is still an active duty member of the Air Force and in a statement, confirmed that his status will remain intact until his case is resolved.

"The Air Force respects civilian judicial processes and supports them to the extent possible allowed by law. Individuals charged with a crime remain innocent until proven guilty and at this time the case is still under investigation by civilian authorities," the statement read. "Speculating on future occurrences during the investigation process would not be conducive to a fair and impartial outcome entitled to the accused."

The Pickels are to return to Wayne County District Court July 1.