Navy probing alleged sexual assault
The U.S. Naval Academy is investigating allegations that three football team members sexually assaulted a female midshipman at an off-campus house more than a year ago, a Pentagon spokesman said Friday, and a lawyer for the woman says she was ''ostracized'' on campus after she reported it.
The Pentagon did not make public the names of the players, and the school's athletic director referred questions to a Naval Academy spokesman, who said the Annapolis military college's leaders were monitoring the investigation but declined further comment.
Navy criminal investigators have concluded their work and submitted a report with additional corroborating evidence to Naval Academy Superintendent Michael Miller, who closed an investigation into the same allegations last year without charges, said Susan Burke, a lawyer for the female midshipman.
''The entire (Naval Academy) community knows about this,'' Burke said in an interview.
The nation's military academies have struggled for years with sexual assault and harassment allegations, and a string of sexual assault cases has recently drawn attention in Congress and at the Pentagon and The White House.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the chiefs of each military branch are scheduled to testify next week at a Senate hearing, and President Barack Obama raised the problem of sex assaults in the military while recently delivering the Naval Academy commencement ceremony address.
Pentagon spokesman Army Col. Steve Warren confirmed the investigation of the midshipmen Friday but said he had no further details. He said academy officials are evaluating options for adjudicating the case. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is determined to stamp out the problem, Warren said.
Other Navy football players have faced sex assault allegations in past years.
In 2006, Lamar Owens, Jr., the team's starting quarterback, was acquitted of rape but found guilty of lesser charges. He was later expelled from the school despite opposition from some alumni. Another one-time member of the team, Kenny Ray Morrison, was convicted in 2007 of sexually assaulting a female classmate at a Washington hotel. He was sentenced to two years in the Navy brig.
The alleged assault occurred in April 2012 at an off-campus house in Annapolis. According to Burke, the woman woke up with bruises after a night of heavy drinking and later learned from friends and social media that three football players - whom she considered friends - were claiming to have had sex with her while she was intoxicated and blacked out, Burke said.
The woman reported the allegations to Navy criminal investigators and was disciplined for drinking while the athletes, one of whom discouraged her from cooperating, were permitted to continue playing, Burke said. The female midshipman remains a student in good standing.
''The institution sent her a message loud and clear about its values,'' she said.
The Navy agreed to reopen the investigation this year after the woman sought legal help, Burke said. The new investigation involved wiretapped conversations that Burke said further substantiated her client's account.
Burke said the scheduled graduation of one of the three students was put on hold because of the allegations, while the other two were not scheduled to graduate this year. But she questioned whether the Naval Academy superintendent could be unbiased in deciding the fate of the three students.
Naval Academy spokesman Cmdr. John Schofield declined to respond to Burke's statements, saying in a statement, ''It is completely inappropriate to make any other public comment on this investigation or any ongoing investigation as we risk compromising the military justice process.''