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Alleged Naval Academy assault took place in quiet suburb

RentalsSexual AssaultSexual MisconductUnited States Naval AcademyAssaultCheesecake FactoryLabor Day

The house that was the scene of alleged sexual assaults by three Naval Academy football players looks like any other in suburban Annapolis: a brick split-level on a quiet cul de sac lined with cherry trees.

But neighbors in the Rolling Hills neighborhood off Generals Highway say the rental house was a nuisance that brought big crowds, loud noise and other problems.

One neighbor, Bethany Swain, said the midshipmen who rented the Witmer Court house — in violation of academy regulations — regularly had visitors and "a lot of cars" on the weekends.

One night when her son was still an infant, Swain said, the noise kept her and the baby awake. "I was this close to going over and saying, 'Hey, it's the middle of the night. I'm up with a newborn, so we're coming to your party,'" she said.

Another time, she said, "My husband actually went out and said if he saw any of them driving, he would call the cops; there were people who were obviously intoxicated."

The aftermath of a raucous "yogas and togas" party at the house last year was the focus of an eight-day legal hearing that ended Tuesday. A female midshipman who said she drank rum to the point that she blacked out has accused the football players of sexually assaulting her in the house and in a car outside.

An investigating officer is deciding whether to recommend that Tra'ves Bush, Joshua Tate and Eric Graham face a court-martial, be punished administratively or have the charges dropped. They did not testify at the hearing and have not commented publicly on the allegations.

The Baltimore Sun does not name the alleged victims of sexual assaults.

Academy officials say the house, about six miles from the school, was an off-campus haven that violated rules requiring all 4,500 midshipmen to live in the massive dorm, Bancroft Hall.

The families of midshipmen and local sponsor families are not allowed to rent houses for the benefit of academy students, officials said. The new commandant, Capt. Bill Byrne, sent a letter to parents and sponsor families reminding them of the rules three weeks ago.

"This is a military service academy, and your building is Bancroft Hall, period," said Cmdr. John Schofield, an academy spokesman.

Schofield could not say whether any midshipmen were disciplined because of the house once it was discovered by academy officials following the party, held on the day of the spring football game and the academy's International Ball.

But Jabaree Tuani, who was a standout defensive end and co-captain for the football team, told The Baltimore Sun in 2012 that he was among four Mids punished for renting the house — dubbed "the football house."

"We knew what we were getting ourselves into, and we knew we were putting ourselves at risk," Tuani said in that interview. "We didn't think anything like this was going to happen. We thought it was going to be a low-key, under-the-radar type deal where we could just relax."

Tuani said his punishment included being restricted to academy grounds for 45 days, marching in full uniform at 5:30 a.m. several days a week and spending three weeks with the fleet in summer of 2012. He graduated three months late and was commissioned as an ensign in the Navy.

An academy public affairs officer at the time, Cmdr. William Marks, said of Tuani: "Tuani is a good example of a midshipman who made a mistake, was held accountable, then learned from his behavior and became a better leader for it."

In addition to offering a place for drinking and partying, the house afforded midshipmen a place to have sex, according to testimony at the hearing. The morning after the party, the woman testified that she woke up on a couch and ended up going to a bedroom with one of the house's occupants, where they had consensual sex while other people were in the room.

When midshipmen of opposite genders are in a room in Bancroft Hall, they are required to keep the door open.

Swain, whose family has lived on the cul de sac since 2008, said neighbors discussed the alleged assaults over Labor Day weekend when families on Witmer Court and Corbin Parkway gathered to hold a triathlon for children to bike, run and swim a few laps in a neighbor's pool.

"I was disappointed and disgusted," Swain said. "This is such a wonderful neighborhood otherwise, and you don't want to think about that happening anywhere. … And to top it off, I have so much respect for those who work hard at the Naval Academy that I think it's horrible when there are these kind of accusations. We want them to be held to a higher standard and this is a lower one."

Attempts to reach the house's owner were unsuccessful.

Robert and Peggy Pratt, who also live on the cul-de-sac, remember an occasion when the football players knocked on their door to warn them about an upcoming party.

"They came to us, to the neighbors, and said, 'Look, we're going to have a party. We're just going to let you know, there is going to be a lot of people here. If something happens, as far as trash, we will come back and clean everything up,'" Robert Pratt said.

By the next morning, whatever mess had been there was already cleaned up, the Pratts said. But someone had hit a utility box and taken out a few mailboxes.

"It looked like a ping-pong ball — hit that and hit that," Peggy Pratt said.

The house has been a rental property for as long as the Pratts have lived on the street; they moved in 27 years ago. And the football players didn't cause much trouble, by most neighborly standards.

"Their grass was cut. Everything was taken care of," Robert Pratt said.

Some neighbors called the police with complaints, but the Pratts said the parties weren't loud enough to rouse them or their black pugs, Knucklehead and Spanky. Still, they were irritated by speeding on the cul de sac.

The couple called the sexual assault allegations "scary," especially as they considered that their daughter, who was 22 in 2012, came home late after closing shifts at the Cheesecake Factory.

"When I told her about it, it really freaked her out," Peggy Pratt said. "She wasn't getting home until 2 or 3 in the morning. … She said, 'Mom if I had known that, I would have been scared to come home at that time of morning,' because it could have been breaking up then and who knows who was on the street?"

ywenger@baltsun.com

pwood@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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RentalsSexual AssaultSexual MisconductUnited States Naval AcademyAssaultCheesecake FactoryLabor Day
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