The sounds of arguing, and then shouting punctured the night in a small residential community in Austin, Texas not far from Fort Hood. Neighbors moved towards the sounds, contemplating whether or not they should call the police.
“I heard it louder, coming up the street. By the time I got to the door I saw Joanna come around the back of the car parked in front of her place,” one of the neighbors told Connecting Vets. “She was getting in the passenger door and then the car pulled out and she tumbled into the street. Some people started yelling [at the driver], 'What the fuck are you doing?'”
The neighbor spoke to Connecting Vets under the condition of anonymity because he feared retaliation from Joanna's husband, Army Cpt. Matthew Thwaites. Other neighbors wrote police statements reviewed by Connecting Vets which collaborated that Thwaites pulled his vehicle out into the street as Joanna was getting in, sending her rolling out of the car and onto the street. Some of those neighbors also said they were afraid of Thwaites.
One neighbor wrote: “This is a guy who's combat trained at the highest level. Who's part of a brotherhood of likeminded individuals who are perfectly comfortable killing people if they judge it to be appropriate. A guy who's shown he's capable of being physically violent in a civilian scenario, who has no issues obtaining firearms if he wants them, is experiencing mental, emotional duress, suicidal [thoughts] and has stated his career is all he has to live for. So it is very easy to imagine him showing up one evening with a long rifle and lighting up your house, my house, and any other neighbor that aided and abetted in having him lose the only thing he has to live for. The cops aren't going to stop him.”
But for Joanna, being flung from the car was just one event in the hellacious end of her relationship with Thwaites, according to Army documents, sworn statements, an Inspector General report, and eyewitness statements reviewed by Connecting Vets.
Messages requesting comment from Cpt. Thwaites were left at a phone number and email associated with him but were not returned by the time of publication.
On paper, Cpt. Thwaites was a rock star Army officer and stellar performer. A member of the Yale track team, he was an accomplished athlete who also excelled at academics. He had no issue displaying leadership abilities and commanding subordinates.
Thwaites served as an Infantry platoon leader in the 82nd Airborne before attending the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program (RASP), which assesses whether officers and sergeants are fit to serve in the 75th Ranger Regiment.
Internal RASP documents reviewed by Connecting Vets reveal interesting insights into Thwaites' character. In peer evaluations, fellow RASP candidates spoke of his above-average intelligence, assertiveness, and high levels of motivation. However, they also described him as arrogant, with poor people skills, and having an inability to accept the consultation of his peers.
One peer said of Thwaites, “his negativity and toxic leadership is contagious. His arrogance and unwillingness to learn will get soldiers killed.” However, all but one of his peers affirmed that they would deploy to combat with Thwaites.
When interviewed by the RASP board chaired by senior leaders in the Ranger Regiment, Col. Thomas Goldner wrote Thwaites, “tends to be more impressed with himself than focusing on others.” Another commented that he, “needs to work on his arrogance and emotional intelligence.” A Command Sergeant Major noted, “his arrogance will kill his career.”
Only one senior leader said Thwaites should be a non-select at RASP, another Sergeant Major who wrote “he needs to take a hard look at himself.”
In the end, the Special Operations community turned a blind eye to the personal and emotional shortcomings of a junior officer because he was a strong performer in the field and he was selected for service in the Ranger Regiment. In 2018, Thwaites placed second in the yearly Best Ranger competition at Fort Benning. After deploying with the Regiment to Afghanistan, Thwaites was assigned to the 3rd Brigade, 1st Calvary Division at Fort Hood.
During this time Thwaites connected with his future wife, Joanna. They hit it off and began seeing each other but things started to slide downhill for the couple in April 2020. After getting pregnant, Thwaites insisted that Joanna get an abortion, according to a statement in an IG report obtained by Connecting Vets. This was difficult in Texas due to restrictions in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, so he drove her to New Mexico.
On the way back from New Mexico, the couple got into a motor vehicle accident and Thwaites' chain of command learned he violated shelter in place orders during the height of the pandemic. As punishment, he was given a General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand (GOMAR) but was still given a command in the unit a few months later.
The couple split for a time but later reconciled and were married on May 6, 2021, at a small ceremony with eight friends in attendance. An argument began on May 24 and continued into the next day, allegedly because Thwaites wanted his wife to cut off contact with four of her friends that the Army Captain described as traitors. The four friends had just attended their wedding.
A police affidavit for arrest and detention for assault with injury details the incident, stating that as the argument escalated, Thwaites punched a cabinet breaking his hand. He stated, “You want to see a dead body? I will show you a dead body,” and moved towards the garage where he kept a rifle inside a gun case. His wife knew that her husband has struggled with mental health issues, according to the police affidavit, and raced to the garage and wrapped her arms and legs around the gun case to prevent him from opening it.
At that point, Thwaites began to pull and strike his wife in an attempt to get to his rifle according to the affidavit. Giving up, he went to go look for his pistol, but his wife had moved it earlier. She went to go find the pistol, fearful that her husband would discover it, but Thwaites then went back to the garage, grabbed his gun case, and loaded it into their car. He got behind the wheel and was preparing to leave when his wife went to get into the car, fearful that he was driving off somewhere to kill himself.
“Matthew accelerated quickly and turned the steering wheel hard to the left throwing [her] from the vehicle,” according to the affidavit and statements written by neighbors.
The police responded, and several witnesses gave statements that officers did not appear to take the situation seriously. Several sources told Connecting Vets that Joanna and Matthew were not interviewed separately by Austin Police as is standard practice during alleged domestic violence incidents. Both parties could see and hear one another during the initial police interview.
According to two sources who spoke to Connecting Vets on the condition of anonymity, Austin Police returned Thwaites' gun case containing his rifle to him after he claimed that it was his Army-issued rifle that he needed for work when it was actually a personally owned weapon.
An emailed list of questions sent to the Austin Police Department went unanswered by the time of publication.
The next day, Joanna was covered in bruises from her husband's alleged assault, as seen in photographs reviewed by Connecting Vets.
On May 27, Thwaites' commander Lt. Col. Derek G. Drouin held a private meeting with Command Sgt. Maj. Randy Angel and Thwaites along with his wife Joanna to try to get to the bottom of their marital issues and alleged spousal abuse.
When asked what his problem was with the four friends that led to the argument, Thwaites objected to one friend's homosexuality, did not like the way another friend looked at his wife the first time they met, and he did not like another because Thwaites felt she was having an emotional affair on her spouse, according to an IG report obtained by Connecting Vets.
The statement in the IG report says that CSM Angel walked Joanna to her car, telling her that he knew she was being abused especially because she wore long sleeves and pants despite it being over 90 degrees that day. A statement in the IG report then states CSM Angel said he knew Thwaites from a previous deployment to Afghanistan and that he would look out for both of them.
Lt. Col. Drouin was shown the photographs of her injuries from the May 24 incident on June 18, but according to internal Army documents reviewed by Connecting Vets, Drouin failed to take any action for two weeks. Lt. Col. Drouin had the ability to launch a commander's internal investigation, known as a 15-6 immediately. If suspected criminal activity was uncovered, he could then have then involved military police and Army Criminal Investigations Division.
“It would have taken maybe three days to do that and get the MPs involved. I think that it is bad leadership,” a military source close to the situation told Connecting Vets on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press. “I don't know why he did that, maybe waiting for evidence but you don't need evidence to start a commander's investigation."
On July 27, Thwaites was arrested by the Austin Police Department on domestic violence charges stemming from the incident in May, and Joanna was given an order of protection one day later.
On June 28 when Joanna gave a sworn statement to military police, Lt. Col. Drouin was informed about what was happening regarding one of his subordinates. According to the Army investigator's statement, Lt. Col. Drouin then told the Military Police it was actually Joanna who was, “making the situation worse.” Jonna did not receive a Military Order of Protection until a month later.
Connecting Vets submitted a detailed list of questions to the Public Affairs office for the 1st Cavalry Division. They declined to comment on the allegations made against Cpt. Thwaites.
After the publication of the story, a Public Affairs officer for 1st Cavalry Division told Connecting Vets, "The welfare of Troopers and their Families is a priority for the 1st Cavalry Division. CPT Matthew Thwaites is currently suspended from his duties pending the outcome of an investigation and his chain of command continues to coordinate with military and civilian law enforcement on this matter." The Public Affairs officer went on to state that Cpt. Thwaites wife has had resources made available to her and the chain of command is taking steps to protect her.
In recent years Fort Hood has been the subject of controversy and outrage, particularly following the botched handling of the disappearance of Army private Vanessa Guillén.
The Army ignored her disappearance until the case received press coverage and eventually the involvement of Congress. It was later learned that Guillén had been murdered by a fellow soldier, and the Army had not handled her previous reports to superiors of sexual harassment appropriately. The murder sparked a massive investigation, congressional intervention, and led to the Pentagon promising reforms.
The state of Texas is pressing domestic violence charges against Thwaites, while divorce proceedings are pending. He has been suspended, but not relieved of his command at 1st Cav. While some who worked with Thwaites describe him as a professional officer and high performer, others speak of previous incidents he was involved in at prior assignments, and describe him as condescending and degrading to peers and subordinates.
“I can say that people like to turn a blind eye to him because he is a prestigious guy who is a Ranger, he picks up heavy things and moves them around quickly so he must be a good leader," an Army officer who worked with Thwaites said. "He is a guy who delivers constantly so when you hear about a domestic violence incident you think it can't be true."
This story has been updated to include a comment from the 1st Cavalry Division Public Affairs Officer.