The U.S. Naval Academy is investigating allegations that three of the school’s football players sexually assaulted a female midshipman at a party last year — an explosive allegation that surfaced Friday as the military faces increased scrutiny over whether it pursues such cases aggressively enough.
The investigation, led by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, has not yielded any arrests, an academy spokesman said. Susan Burke, an attorney for the woman, said the incident occurred at an off-campus “football house” in Annapolis.
The female midshipman got drunk and passed out, Burke said, and woke up remembering little from the party. “She learned from friends and social media that three football players were claiming to have had sexual intercourse with her while she was incapacitated,” Burke said in a statement.
Burke has taken on similar cases and is urging Congress to change the law so that military prosecutors, instead of commanders who lack legal training, have the power to decide whether sexual assault cases should go to trial. The Senate Armed Services Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing Tuesday on that proposal and related bills. Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other senior military officers are scheduled to testify.
A recent Pentagon survey estimated that 26,000 service members experienced “unwanted sexual contact” last year, although only 3,374 reports of sexual assault were recorded. One recent case, involving a former Naval Academy history instructor, went to court-martial this week. Marine Corps Maj. Mark A. Thompson, 43, is charged with aggravated sexual assault amid allegations that he had sex last year with students while playing drinking games and strip poker.
President Obama addressed sexual assaults in the military while speaking to Naval Academy graduates last week. “It only takes the misconduct of a few to further erode people’s trust in their government,” he said in his commencement address May 24 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
Lt. Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters Friday that three football players were under investigation in the matter. Military officials released few other details about the allegations and declined to identify the players.
John Schofield, a spokesman at the Naval Academy, said it would be inappropriate to discuss specifics of the case, because doing so would “risk compromising the military justice process.”
Burke said that after the party, the female midshipman and a friend reported the incident to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. The midshipman brought a bottle of Malibu Black rum to the party and drank a lot of it. “She blacked out,” Burke said, and couldn’t provide much information to investigators. The case was halted, Burke said.
Burke said her client was disciplined for drinking and was ostracized by the Naval Academy community. By contrast, Burke said, “the football players were permitted to continue playing football and suffered no adverse consequences.” They even talked about the incident during a pregame pep talk, Burke alleged.
One of the three players told the female midshipman not to cooperate with naval investigators, Burke said, and the woman followed his advice. This year, she retained Burke and took affirmative steps in the case, such as wearing a hidden microphone. “She participated in wiretaps,” the attorney said.
Burke accused academy officials of dragging their feet, and she singled out Vice Adm. Michael H. Miller, the academy superintendent. She said he had been given information about the case, including “corroborating evidence obtained through wiretaps.”
“The superintendent alone has the power to decide whether the military will charge these football players,” Burke said, noting that that is part of a broader problem. “We continue to ask: Why should justice in military sexual assault cases be placed in the untrained and biased hands of commanders?”
Schofield, the Naval Academy spokesman, said the investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service was ongoing and would be presented to Miller once it is completed. “A final NCIS report has not been submitted to the superintendent for any decision on this matter,” Schofield said.
There were 13 reported cases of sexual assault at the Naval Academy in the 2011-12 school year, down from 22 the year before, according to the most recently available statistics from the Defense Department.
Around the country, sexual assault cases in the military continue to surface.
In early May, a 41-year-old lieutenant colonel who headed the Air Force’s program to prevent sexual assaults faced charges on allegations that he groped a woman’s breasts and buttocks in a parking lot in Arlington County.
An Air Force general ran afoul of Congress for granting clemency to a convicted sex offender without any public explanation; it was the second case this year in which a three-star Air Force general has raised lawmakers’ hackles by effectively pardoning an officer found guilty of sexual assault.
At the Naval Academy, former star quarterback Lamar S. Owens Jr. was charged and ultimately cleared in 2006 in the rape of a female midshipman in Bancroft Hall. But he was found guilty of misconduct charges that included having sex in a dorm. Another Navy football player, Kenny Ray Morrison, was sentenced to two years of confinement and dismissal from the Navy for sexually assaulting a female midshipman at a D.C. hotel in 2006.