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Army Pvt. Travis King faces desertion, child pornography charges

Pvt. Travis King crossed into North Korea on July 18. He was returned on Sept. 27.
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Travis King North Korea Army
Army Pvt. Travis King was in U.S. custody after being released from North Korea. (U.S. Army Photo/Task & Purpose composite image).

Army Pvt. Travis King, who crossed into North Korea in July and was returned two months later, has been charged with desertion, possession of child pornography, and other offenses, according to his charge sheet, which was obtained by Task & Purpose.

On July 18, King was supposed to board a flight from South Korea to the United States so that he could face punishment for assault charges stemming from an incident with a South Korean national, for which he had spent two months in a South Korean jail.

But instead of getting on his plane, King allegedly joined a group that was leaving the airport to visit the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom along the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea.

After King arrived at Panmunjom, he allegedly “willfully and without authorization” crossed into North Korea, according to a U.S. military spokesman. The Army subsequently listed King as absent without leave, or AWOL.

North Korea announced on Sept. 27 that it had decided to expel King for illegally entering its territory. He was later sent to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, for medical and mental evaluations.

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King has now been charged with desertion for being absent from the Army without authority from July 18 to Sept. 27, his charge sheet says. He faces seven other charges including making a false official statement, and disobeying orders for a series of incidents before he crossed into North Korea.

For one incident last October, King faces charges of insubordination and assault for allegedly punching a lieutenant, kicking a staff sergeant, and grabbing the arm of a sergeant, the charge sheet says. He is also accused of trying to escape from custody for the same incident.

King is also accused of viewing sexually explicit content involving a minor on Snapchat about a week before he crossed into North Korea, according to the charge sheet.

The 1st Armored Division issued a statement on Friday confirming that King had been charged with alleged violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

“To protect the privacy of Private King, the Army will not comment on the details of ongoing litigation,” the statement says. “Private King is presumed innocent of the charges until proven guilty.”

King’s mother Claudine Gates has issued a statement saying she is very concerned about her son’s mental health and that she asks people to afford him the presumption of innocence.

“A mother knows her son, and I believe something happened to mine while he was deployed,” Gates said in the statement. “The Army promised to investigate what happened at Camp Humphreys, and I await the results. I am grateful for the extraordinary legal team representing my son, and I look forward to my son having his day in court.”

Franklin Rosenblatt, one of King’s attorneys, told Task & Purpose on Friday that the case against King represents a shift in U.S. policy regarding American citizens who have been captured by enemy forces, Franklin said on Friday.

“For the last 75 years, we have always done all we can to try to show solidarity with those who are captured and try to bring them home,” Franklin said. “The only criminal investigations that are conducted are of the captors to try to get our people back. What we saw here is that when Pvt. King was over [in North Korea], we went into overdrive to investigate every aspect and tended to leave no stone unturned to see what it was that he did wrong.”

Two days ago, King was placed in pretrial confinement after being flown to Fort Bliss, Texas, to join his home unit the 1st Armored Division, Rosenblatt said. King is currently being held at the Otero County Detention Center, a civilian prison.

“The problems with that facility have been very well documented in other places,” Rosenblatt said. “It fails to meet Army standards, and because of the conditions there, it effectively amounts to Pvt. King being placed into solitary confinement.”

King’s defense team plans to argue at a hearing next week that the 1st Armored Division commander made a mistake in ordering King into pretrial confinement when other options to make sure that he goes where he needs to be are available, Rosenblatt said.

When asked if he plans to argue that King did not intentionally cross into North Korea, Rosenblatt declined to answer for now.

“There’s going to be a time and a place for addressing the merits of the charges and any possible defenses,” Rosenblatt said. “You’ll see that at the Article 32 hearing. That’s probably going to be a few weeks from now. And so, all I want to say about that is that Pvt. King strongly wants the Article 32 hearing to be public. Sometimes, the military has a tendency in cases like this to try to make them secret. Pvt. King wants everything to be out there for everyone to see.”

UPDATE: 10/20/2023; this story was updated with a statement from the 1st Armored Division.

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