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Naval Academy drops sex assault charges against football player

Sexual AssaultSexual MisconductUnited States Naval AcademyColleges and UniversitiesU.S. Department of Defense

The superintendent of the Naval Academy has dropped all criminal charges against a second football player accused of sexually assaulting a female midshipman at a party in Annapolis, officials said Friday.

Military lawyers advised Vice Adm. Michael H. Miller to drop the case against Midshipman Eric Graham after a military judge ruled that statements Graham made to investigators would be inadmissible in a court-martial because he had not been read his Miranda rights.

Graham, a fourth-year midshipman from Eight Mile, Ala., had been charged with abusive sexual contact and making a false statement. He was one of three Navy football players initially accused in the alleged assault during the April 2012 party. Only one now faces prosecution.

The news came as the Pentagon released its annual assessment on sexual assault at the military academies. Reports of sexual assault at the Naval Academy rose slightly, to 15 in the past academic year, up from 13 the year before.

The number of reports fell at the U.S. Military Academy and the U.S. Air Force Academy, the Pentagon said Friday, for an overall drop across the three academies to 70, down 10 from the previous year.

But Pentagon officials say the great majority of assaults go unreported. They believe that hundreds of cadets and midshipmen are subjected to unwanted sexual contact each year.

A Naval Academy spokesman said the increase in reports at Annapolis shows officials are making progress.

"We are successfully cultivating a climate where victims feel safe reporting assaults," Cmdr. John Schofield said.

But critics point to an increase in the number of cadets and midshipmen who reported an assault and then declined to cooperate with investigators to prosecute a suspect. They say that indicates a declining faith in the military justice system.

Nancy J. Parrish, president of the Washington-based advocacy group Protect Our Defenders, said the Naval Academy case could deter future victims from pressing charges.

During a preliminary hearing last year, the alleged victim was subjected to what Parrish called "30 hours of abusive cross-examination" by three defense teams. The woman was asked about her experience with oral sex, and whether she felt like a "ho" the morning after the alleged assault.

"How does the military expect more victims to come forward if they see how they are treated when they do?" Parrish asked.

Partly in response to that hearing, Congress approved several changes last month to the Article 32 hearing process, including language that prevents the alleged victim from being forced to testify.

Ronald "Chip" Herrington, an attorney for Graham, said his client was "gratified that this difficult chapter is now closed" and "looks forward to graduating and serving his country as a naval officer."

An attorney for the woman called the decision disappointing. "The victim was unshakable in her desire to move forward in the case," Ryan Guilds said.

The Baltimore Sun does not name victims of alleged assaults.

The Pentagon released the assault data as part of its congressionally mandated Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies.

Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow, head of the Pentagon's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, said it was not possible to say whether the overall decline in reports indicates a decline in incidents. He said the office would survey cadets and midshipmen this year to gain a better understanding of the number of assaults taking place.

"I want to make one thing clear," Snow told reporters Friday. "Sexual assault is a crime and has no place at the academies, just as it has no place in the armed forces."

The drop in sexual assault reports at West Point and the Air Force Academy runs counter to the recent militarywide trend of increased reporting.

At the Naval Academy, eight of the 15 reports involved an alleged attack by one midshipman on another. The rest either predated the alleged victim's arrival at the academy or were perpetrated by someone other than a midshipman.

The authors of the report Friday conclude that leaders, faculty and staff at the academies are committed to eliminating sexual assault, and the "vast majority" of students "generally support the values of mutual respect and dignity."

"However, the extent to which cadets and midshipmen feel free to act on these values varies. ... At each of the three academies, there is evidence that some cadets and midshipmen disregarded academy policies and practices in these areas."

At the Naval Academy, Schofield said, midshipmen are briefed by the sexual assault prevention and response staff on their first day on campus. During their four years on campus, he said, midshipmen receive more than 30 hours of mandatory training and education — more than at any other college or university in the country.

Schofield said special effort is focused on academy athletes, who have been the subject of several allegations in recent years. He said all sports team captains, company commanders and brigade leaders participated in a leadership retreat last summer at which sexual harassment and assault was a central theme.

All varsity athletes are required to sign a code of conduct at the beginning of the year that addresses sexual harassment and sexual assault, Schofield said, and the academy superintendent met with each varsity team and coach during the summer and fall to "reinforce expectations."

"The Naval Academy continues to promote a positive command climate where incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault are immediately identified and ultimately eliminated," he said. "As an institution producing future leaders for the Navy and Marine Corps, nothing is more important than instilling and maintaining a climate where all midshipmen always treat one another — and expect to be treated — with dignity and mutual respect."

The authors of the report write that the Naval Academy "demonstrated a commitment to increasing awareness of sexual assaults and harassment at the academy, developing and conducting high quality training, and improving the victim experience."

They encouraged officials to continue to incorporate "sexual assault prevention learning objectives" in academic curriculum and to develop measures to judge effectiveness and prevention.

The superintendent dropped the charges against Graham on the recommendation of the Navy Region Legal Service Office Mid-Atlantic and Naval Academy staff judge advocate.

Miller declined to pursue charges against another football player accused in the alleged assault after a preliminary hearing last year. Tra'ves Bush graduated from the academy and was commissioned as an ensign in the Navy.

The case against Midshipman Joshua Tate remains active. He faces a court-martial in May on charges of sexual assault and making a false statement.

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Sexual AssaultSexual MisconductUnited States Naval AcademyColleges and UniversitiesU.S. Department of Defense
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