Air Force colonel acquitted in assault case

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP - Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, who led the Air Force's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Unit, is seen leaving the Arlington County General District Court on July 18.

An Air Force colonel accused of assaulting a young woman outside a Crystal City bar this past spring has been acquitted by an Arlington jury.

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, 42, was head of the Air Force’s sexual assault prevention branch when he was arrested after the May encounter outside a Crystal City bar. The incident was swept up in an ongoing debate over whether the military is equipped to handle sexual assaults among its ranks.

(AP) - This image released by the Arlington County Police Department shows Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski.

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Prosecutors and defense attorneys finished their final pitches to jurors about 3:30 pm. Arlington County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Cari Steele asked them to focus on Krusinski’s grabbing of the woman’s buttocks when she clearly “didn’t like it” and ignore what she termed “distractions” posed by his defense attorneys.

“She felt totally violated,” Steele said. “That’s what this case is about.”

Barry Coburn, Krusinski’s attorney, highlighted what he called inconsistencies in the woman’s account of a fracas after the alleged grab, and said those were enough to give jurors reasonable doubt. He hinted that Krusinski might have grazed the woman by accident on a narrow sidewalk.

On Tuesday, the woman, a 23-year-old American University graduate, testified emotionally about the encounter with Krusinski, saying she felt “totally violated.” She said she was on the phone with a friend outside Freddie’s Beach Bar when Krusinski came up behind her, gave her behind a “squeeze,” and “asked me if I liked it.”

The woman said she followed Krusinksi and confronted him, pushing and punching him in the face.

A server from the bar testified that she too was groped by Krusinski that night, along with one of her co-workers.

“He was just a drunken mess,” the server, Jordain Coleman, testified. She said Krusinski offered to take her home with him. Coleman told jurors that she was used to dealing with drunk customers and brushed him off, only to watch him approach and grope the 23-year-old woman.

“I don’t blame her, but she went crazy on him,” Coleman said.

On Wednesday morning, Krusinski’s lawyers asked unsuccessfully for a mistrial, saying that after Coleman’s testimony, Krusinski could not possibly get a fair verdict. In a previous hearing, they had attempted to exclude some of that testimony.

The defense focused Wednesday on the actions during and after the woman’s encounter with Krusinski. Two witnesses testified that they saw the woman hit Krusinski repeatedly with both hands, one of which held her cellphone. She had testified that she hit him only with her right hand, with the phone in her left.

A bartender from Freddie’s testified that Krusinski approached the back entrance of the bar from the parking lot after the encounter, his face “awash in blood.” Ray Martin, the bartender, gave Krusinski a wet rag and called an ambulance.

Krusinski was initially charged with sexual battery, but prosecutors ultimately moved forward with an assault charge. Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos said prosecutors decided that the way the sexual battery statute is written and has been interpreted by appellate courts made an assault charge more appropriate.

Assault is a Class 1 misdemeanor, with a maximum punishment of a $2,500 fine and a year in jail.

The alleged incident came amid a political fight over how the military should handle complaints of sexual harassment and assault. Some lawmakers are pushing for cases to be taken out of the chain of command. The Pentagon has resisted that and instead revamped sexual assault policies.

A recently released Pentagon report found that reports of sexual assault in the military increased 46 percent to 3,553 reports this fiscal year, a spike Defense Department officials portrayed as a sign that victims now feel more comfortable coming forward.

Krusinski was assigned to another position after his arrest, and Air Force officials had said that they would wait until the legal proceedings were over to take any action.

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