Charges have been dropped against a lieutenant colonel stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord accused of plotting to kill a woman.
The Pierce County prosecutor dropped all charges Friday against an Army lieutenant colonel who had been accused of threatening to kill his superior officer, his estranged wife and another woman.
Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said his office dropped the three felony harassment charges filed in March against Lt. Col. Robert E. Underwood because of evidence suggesting the woman who reported the threats to authorities might have made it all up.
Underwood has maintained his innocence since his arrest in March, arguing the woman, Serena Kiptoo, made up stories about him when he rejected her romantic advances.
Kiptoo had claimed she and Underwood were in a relationship, something Underwood denied.
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Prosecutors filed paperwork Friday afternoon saying they’d lost faith in the credibility of Kiptoo, who was the main witness against Underwood.
Deputy Prosecutor Neil Horibe asked Superior Court Judge Beverly Grant to sign an order dismissing the three felony harassment charges against Underwood on Friday afternoon. Grant agreed but left the door open so prosecutors could refile the charges if more evidence emerges.
Underwood’s attorney, Philip Thornton, of Tacoma, said his client has “been through the wringer” since his arrest. Underwood was jailed for several days before making bail and being released.
Kiptoo had told police that Underwood, 46, threatened to kill her after she confronted him about a naked photograph of his daughter on his laptop computer. She also reported he claimed to have paid a hit man $150,000 to kill his wife and his superior officer.
A search of Underwood’s computer turned up no such photo of his daughter, Lindquist said, and messages Kiptoo left on Underwood’s phone suggested she had a motive to fabricate the allegations.
In the messages, Kiptoo said “she was going to get him,” Thornton said Friday.
“He’s very unhappy with the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office and with the Steilacoom Police Department for failing to investigate these allegations before charges were filed,” Thornton said.
Lindquist said he initially believed his office could prove the three harassment charges, but dropped them after learning of the evidence impeaching Kiptoo’s credibility.
“We only proceed forward on cases where it’s just to proceed and where we believe we can prove the case,” Lindquist said.
Police in Steilacoom, Pierce County, did not immediately return a call seeking comment Friday.
Thornton said that since his release from jail, Underwood has been confined to certain areas of Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The Army had given no indication as of Friday afternoon about whether it might lift those restrictions, or whether it might conduct any further investigation of Underwood, Thornton said.
Underwood was commissioned into the Army as a lieutenant in 1992, and he was the ROTC instructor at Eastern Washington University from February 2005 to December 2007. Previously based in Naples, Italy, he arrived at Lewis-McChord in January after serving a year in Afghanistan. He also served a stint in Iraq, from March 2004 to February 2005, and spent four months in Bosnia in 1998.
Underwood is assigned to the 191st Infantry Brigade, a training support brigade.
At the time of his arrest, his commanding officer, Lt. Col. Shawn Reed, told detectives he believed the reported threats could be real because Underwood, in the middle of a contentious divorce, felt he had “nothing to lose.”
His wife, Kara Underwood, already had a restraining order against him, claiming he had made threats against her and her two daughters.
Reed had helped obtain a military protective order separating the couple and had ordered Underwood to undergo a mental-health exam.
Reed also said that as a child, Underwood had witnessed his mother kill his siblings and that he had survived being shot eight times and left for dead.
“Put it all together, and he’s ready to snap,” a detective wrote at the time of Underwood’s arrest.
But an Army colonel, writing on Underwood’s behalf, described him as “a valued and outstanding officer with a spotless career.”
Underwood’s arrest in mid-March followed a string of bad news linked to Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Most prominently, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales had just been arrested in Afghanistan and accused of killing 16 unarmed civilians, including women and children. And in January, an ex-soldier from JBLM, Benjamin Colton Barnes, shot and killed park Ranger Margaret Anderson in Mount Rainier National Park. He was later found dead of exposure.
Meanwhile, a record number of soldiers from the base had committed suicide in the previous year, and a psychiatric team at Madigan Army Medical Center was under investigation over possibly improper denials of post-traumatic-stress diagnoses to soldiers.
Four Lewis-McChord soldiers had also been convicted in the previous year for their roles in the killings of three unarmed Afghan civilians.
Material from The Seattle Times archives was used in this report.