Assault charges dropped against former Navy football player

The U.S. Naval Academy announced Friday that criminal charges have been dropped against a midshipman accused of sexually assaulting a classmate at an off-campus party.

Military lawyers recommended to academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Michael Miller not to proceed with the case against Midshipman Eric Graham. As commanding officer, Miller makes the decision whether to prosecute.

Graham, a senior from Eight Mile, Ala., had been facing charges of abusive sexual contact and making a false statement. He was one of three Navy football players initially accused in the high-profile case.

Ronald "Chip" Herrington, Graham's civilian attorney, praised Miller's decision to drop the case "based upon the absence of any evidence of a crime." He had filed his own motion requesting dismissal last week.

Herrington said Graham was, "gratified that this difficult chapter is now closed. He looks forward to graduating and serving his country as a naval officer."

A female classmate had said Graham and two other former football players may have assaulted her at an off-campus party in Annapolis in April 2012. The alleged victim testified last summer at a preliminary hearing, called an Article 32 hearing, that she had few memories of the night and learned about what may have happened later through social media and rumors at the academy.

The Baltimore Sun does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault.

The accusation against Graham centered around the female midshipman allegedly performing oral sex in a car at the party.

The alleged victim's attorney, Ryan Guilds, said the decision to dismiss the case was disappointing.

"The victim was unshakable in her desire to move forward in the case," said Guilds, who had sent a letter to the superintendent arguing the case should still be heard. "Pursuant to the spirit of military law and justice, we urge you to give the victim her day in court," Guilds wrote.

Cmdr. John Schofield, an academy spokesman, said Miller dropped the case after a military judge ruled some statements Graham made to investigators couldn't be used in a court-martial. The judge's report has not been made public, but Guilds said the statements were excluded because Graham was not read his Miranda rights.

The commanding officer of the Navy's Region Legal Service Office and the academy's staff judge advocate recommended to Miller that he dismiss the charges, Schofield said.

Miller had previously declined to pursue charges against Tra'ves Bush, who has since graduated and was commissioned as an ensign in the Navy.

Charges against Midshipman Joshua Tate remain active. He is scheduled to be court-martialed on charges of sexual assault and making a false statement in May.

The dismissal of charges against Graham was announced just as the Pentagon released a report documenting an increase of reported sexual assaults at the Naval Academy. Reports of sexual assaults declined at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Air Force Academy, according to the report.

In the 2012-2013 school year – the year after the alleged party house assaults were reported – a total of 15 sexual assaults were reported at the Naval Academy, an increase from 13 the year before.

Sexual assault at the academies and in the military as a whole has been a growing concern, with victim advocates pushing for changes to the military justice system. They are seeking to strip commanding officers of the ability to make decisions whether to prosecute, instead allowing trained lawyers to make those decisions.

Advocates also are seeking reform of the Article 32 hearing process, pointing to the more than 20 hours that the alleged victim appeared on the witness stand in the Naval Academy case.

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