The 23-year-old woman said she had paused outside a Crystal City bar, finishing up a phone conversation, while her friends went inside. A man came up behind her, and she felt him “firmly grab my rear end.” Then, she said, he “asked me if I liked it.”
The man walked away, she said, but she caught up and confronted him. She felt as if he was taunting her, she said, and she punched him several times in his face and then pushed him in the face. He put his hands behind his head, she testified, and backed away. When it was over, she had blood on her.
The woman, an American University graduate, took the stand Tuesday in an Arlington County courtroom, tearfully describing that May encounter. Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, 41, who at the time was chief of the Air Force’s sexual-assault prevention branch, is accused of assaulting her. The Washington Post does not generally identify alleged crime victims.
Krusinski’s arrest, which came as the Pentagon reported that there had been a surge in the number of military personnel who are victims of sexual assaults and related crimes, attracted significant attention.
The officer grabbed two other women that night in a similar manner, according to the testimony of an employee at Freddie’s Beach Bar.
Jordain Coleman, a server, told jurors that she was smoking with co-workers when Krusinski approached, clearly quite drunk, and asked for a cigarette. She gave him hers, and he proceeded to grope another employee, Coleman said, adding that she moved away and the other woman went inside.
Coleman said that Krusinski followed her and gave her a hug. She testified that he grabbed her behind and invited him back to his home. The server said she is accustomed to dealing with customers who are drunk and pushed him off. She then saw him approach and grab the young woman, she said.
“I don’t blame her, but she went crazy,” Coleman said. She said the man put his arms up while the woman struck him in the head and grabbed his nose.
After the altercation, witnesses testified, Krusinski went to the parking lot behind the bar. He was apprehended by police nearby. He was staggering, his eyes were bloodshot and he smelled strongly of alcohol, testified Cpl. Geoffrey Gammell of Arlington County police. Krusinski repeatedly put his hands behind his head, Gammell said.
During his opening statement, defense attorney Barry Coburn told jurors that Krusinski “had an extremely strong incentive not to commit an act that would cost him his career.” He predicted that the evidence would show a case “riddled with inconsistencies.”
The defense highlighted some possible inconsistencies Tuesday, with disagreement among witnesses about which way Krusinski was facing when he allegedly encountered the AU graduate.
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 debate 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 jumped 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 said they would wait until the legal proceedings were over to take any action.
The trial is to continue Wednesday.