The female midshipman who has accused three former football players of sexually assaulting her at a party filed a federal lawsuit Thursday to force the U.S. Naval Academy’s superintendent, Vice Adm. Michael H. Miller, to give up authority over the case.
Susan Burke, an attorney for the alleged victim, told reporters Thursday morning that Miller is biased. Burke said Miller had made it difficult for her client to come forward, doing nothing to protect the student from harassment by other midshipmen or to punish the accused for boastful comments they allegedly made on social media about alleged sexual encounters with the young woman.
An academy spokesman, Cmdr. John Schofield, declined to comment on Miller’s behalf because the lawsuit is pending.
The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, alleges that Miller made it clear in comments to returning midshipmen that the administration was unhappy about the negative publicity the case had received.
The complaint also says the superintendent showed bias against the alleged victim by requiring her to endure a long and hostile cross-examination during an Article 32 hearing — the military equivalent of a grand jury proceeding — on the allegations.
In June, Miller agreed to charge the three athletes — Tra’ves Bush of Johnson, S.C., Eric Graham of Eight Mile, Ala., and Joshua Tate of Nashville — based on recommendations by Naval Criminal Investigative Service officials.
Under military law, Miller is also tasked with deciding whether the case will go to a court-martial, based on evidence gathered at the Article 32 hearing, which concluded Tuesday.
At the hearing, the alleged victim testified that she drank heavily the night she attended a “toga and yoga” party in April 2012 at an off-campus “football house.” She said she remembers little of what happened and later came to believe that she had been sexually assaulted based on rumors and statements allegedly made by the accused. However, she was reluctant to cooperate with investigators and withheld information, she said, because she wanted the case to “go away.”
Defense attorneys homed in on discrepancies in her statements to investigators about the night of the alleged incident, among other topics. They cross-examined her for more than 25 hours over several days. Some of the questions concerned what she wore that night, how she danced, and how she performs oral sex. Burke argued Thursday that the invasive and scathing tone of the cross-examination “rose to the level of abuse.”
Attorneys for the accused have accused Burke of manipulating the alleged victim to advance a political agenda and to have authority over sexual-assault cases removed from the military chain of command.
The case has unfolded at a time when the military is under attack over its handling of sexual violence in the ranks. The Defense Department estimates that 26,000 service members were the targets of unwanted sexual contact last year, but only 3,374 incidents of sexual assault were reported, the Pentagon said in May.
Some lawmakers want to take sexual assault cases out of the hands of the military chain of command, a proposal that is expected to be debated in the Senate in the fall.