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Former Naval Academy instructor faces sexual assault charges

A Marine Corps officer who worked as an instructor at the Naval Academy has been accused of sexually assaulting a female midshipman in his Annapolis apartment following the annual croquet match between the academy and St. John's College in 2011.

An academy spokeswoman confirmed that Marine Corps Maj. Mark A. Thompson, a history instructor at the academy at the time of the alleged assault, has been charged with two counts of aggravated sexual assault, two counts of fraternization and three counts of conduct unbecoming an officer.

Spokeswoman Jennifer Erickson said Thompson was reassigned from the Naval Academy after the alleged assault was reported. Thompson's civilian attorney did not return a message Wednesday.

Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Michael H. Miller has convened a preliminary hearing to determine whether there is probable cause to prosecute Thompson.

Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, aggravated sexual assault carries a maximum penalty of 30 years.

The Naval Academy and the military as a whole have been grappling with sexual assaults among the ranks. The Pentagon released a report last month that showed that reports of sexual assaults at the Naval Academy fell from 22 two years ago to 13 last year.

The other military service academies — the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., and the Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs — saw reports increase during the same period, leading to an overall spike of 23 percent.

It remains unclear how accurately the number of reports reflects the number of assaults. Officials believe many attacks go unreported, and conduct surveys of midshipmen and cadets to get a clearer picture. At the Naval Academy, 15.1 percent of women and 2.6 percent of men said they had experienced unwanted sexual contact, both down slightly from a 2010 survey.

In a memo last month to the secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies showed that "we have a persistent problem" and called for a "strong and immediate response."

"The young men and women enrolled at the service academies must be able to learn and develop as future leaders in an environment free from sexual assault and sexual harassment," Panetta wrote. "They must feel secure enough to report without fear of retribution, and offenders must be held appropriately accountable."

"We recognize there is more work to do on sexual assault prevention across the Department of Defense as well as at the military academies," said Maj. Gen. Gary S. Patton, director of the Pentagon's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. He said his staff would work with each academy "to find new ways to incorporate prevention of sexual assault and harassment into academy culture."

Details of the Article 32 hearing in the Thompson case, which concluded this week at the Washington Navy Yard, were first reported by Military.com.

According to the news website, former Midshipman Sarah Stadler testified Tuesday that she and a fellow female midshipman visited Thompson at his apartment following the croquet match on April 30, 2011. The fellow midshipman later reported the alleged assault to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. In general, The Baltimore Sun does not identify alleged victims of sexual crimes.

According to Military.com, Stadler said that she and the alleged victim drank alcohol at the croquet match, at a Mexican restaurant in Annapolis and at Thompson's apartment. She described the alleged victim and herself as "drunk."

Stadler, now a gunnery officer aboard the destroyer USS Howard, testified she had had sex with Thompson before April 30, according to the news website. On the night of the alleged attack, Stadler said, she, the alleged victim and Thompson played strip poker in his apartment.

The investigative officer presiding over the Article 32 hearing will now forward his findings to Miller, the academy superintendent. Miller will decide whether to proceed with a court-martial or other action.

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

twitter.com/matthewhaybrown

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