Assault case fuels tension at Academy Conflict: Naval Academy midshipman Scott Ward (right) fights off charges of sexual assault aganist female classmates, and his accusers find themselves under renewed scruting

THE BALTIMORE SUN

To his many admirers at the Naval Academy, Scott Ward was all a future combat officer should be: a wrestler, triathlete and sky diver, commander of half the midshipmen, headed for the elite Navy SEALs.

But to four female classmates, Scott Ward was more predator than paragon. After nights of drinking, they say, he went into their dorm rooms, climbed into bed and demanded sex.

Since Ward's promising Navy career collapsed with his arrest in April, he and an aggressive private lawyer have successfully fought off criminal charges of sexual assault. Ward still faces a hearing Monday that could result in his expulsion. But the tables have turned: One of Ward's accusers is under investigation for perjury and sexual misconduct; another has been told she may be charged with "fraternizing" with Ward.

For the scandal-scarred Naval Academy, the Scott Ward case has exposed a larger conflict. When Ward's friends whisper about a "feminist conspiracy" to frame him, and the women's friends say the academy's macho culture punishes women who dare complain, they speak across a chasm that divides the institution.

Twenty years after women arrived at the Navy's premier officers' school, and when they are heading into the fleet in unprecedented numbers as officers and recruits, their very presence remains controversial at Annapolis.

Many male midshipmen say privately they wish the academy still were the men-only bastion of its first 131 years. Women, who now make up 14 percent of the students, say their achievements too often are dismissed as the unearned result of favoritism or affirmative action.

The complicated relations between 3,400 men and 540 women are played out inside Bancroft Hall, the huge stone dormitory where all midshipmen live and where discipline is enforced by student leaders such as Ward.

Rules of the dormitory

Men and women are not segregated by wing or floor, and academy rules prohibit students from locking their doors. Late-night visits are constant, sometimes for study groups, sometimes for gripe sessions -- and sometimes, midshipmen say, for romance.

Officially, sexual activity is banned from "the Hall." One reason is that military rank can be abused for sexual bullying, especially when an upperclassman pursues a "plebe," or first-year student. But the ban has been widely ignored, at least until a crackdown ordered early this year.

"When I was a plebe, I felt like it was almost a common occurrence for guys to come back after they'd been drinking and walk into a girl's room," says 2nd Lt. Jennifer Campion, 21, a 1996 graduate training to become a Marine pilot.

Campion says rules have been tightened and conduct improved in her time at Annapolis. Sexual harassment training has been added to the curriculum, and there is a new Sexual Assault Victim Intervention program. Such programs, part of the Navy's nervous, post-Tailhook insistence on gender equality and sexual etiquette, stir considerable resentment.

Despite the new training, 66 percent of women students and 27 percent of men said in a survey early last year they believe sexual harassment is a problem at the academy. Yet only two harassment cases were reported in the entire 1994-95 academic year.

Women have long been reluctant to file complaints, says Harriet Bergmann, an English professor at the academy for 19 years.

"Over the years, there have been a lot of cases of sexual assault that were not reported," she says. "What still is true to some degree is the administration is not quite able to cope with these problems."

Commitment questioned

The women's supporters question the academy's competence and commitment in pursuing the charges against Ward. They say the turn the case has taken illustrates just why women are reluctant to report sexual harassment or assault; they risk being branded liars, shunned or worse -- one of Ward's accusers says she was punched and kicked by his friends on the way to meals.

And they may subject themselves to questioning about their sexual histories, possibly facing expulsion if they admit to sexual activity in Bancroft Hall.

"It takes a very bold person to come forward," says 2nd Lt. Alicia Chiaramonte, 22, a May graduate now in the Marine Corps.

In a memo written this spring for the academy leadership -- but never delivered -- a graduating woman expressed anguish about her experiences.

"I cannot think of a single day that has gone by that I have not had to listen to rude, disgusting comments being made about women from my male counterparts," she wrote in the emotional, four-page essay.

"I have been slapped on the butt, pinched and bumped into. I have woken up in the middle of the night on numerous occasions to find some male standing in my doorway, standing in my room, sitting on my desk, or actually in bed with me."

But she never dared complain, the woman wrote.

"I have seen friends of mine start sexual harassment cases," she wrote. "I emphasize start, because I have never seen one dealt with where that female was not totally ostracized from her company or blacklisted and the case was swept under the rug."

Uninvited visits

Scott Ward was no stranger to the four women who would file the charges against him. Two were ex-girlfriends; one was in his military company; one was a younger student he was assigned to train when she arrived at the academy.

Ward, 23, was one of the most popular midshipmen on campus, a natural leader even among the team captains and class presidents who come to Annapolis from all over America. Classmates describe the muscular, 5-foot-8-inch midshipman as

driven and disciplined but also gregarious. Over four years, as more than 20 percent of the class of 1996 washed out, Ward climbed steadily higher, finally landing the third-highest leadership post.

"When he was in front of a group of people, they just naturally followed him," says Ensign Peter A. Arrobio, a May graduate and good friend of Ward. "When he talked, people would listen. He just brought everybody together."

Allegations surface

Then, just eight weeks before graduation, Ward's impeccable reputation was shattered and he was locked in a Marine brig. Over a few days at the end of March, the four women accused him of offenses from fondling to rape.

The first to come forward was track team captain Naomi Jackson, encouraged by the team adviser. Then, after consulting the same officer, Lt. Dawn Hillman, a second senior alleged that Ward had assaulted her about two years earlier.

A third senior accused him of an unwanted sexual advance this spring. Finally, a sophomore said Ward had raped her last year.

(Jackson's lawyer gave permission to use her name. The other accusers are not named under The Sun's policy on victims of alleged sexual offenses.)

In May, during an extended Article 32 hearing -- the military's equivalent of a grand jury -- the women's stories were challenged so effectively that the presiding Navy officer, Lt. Cmdr. Lara Lynn Jowers, decided to drop all criminal charges.

Weakened case

The case was unquestionably weakened by the fact that at least two of the women had prior sexual relationships with Ward and three did not immediately report the alleged assaults.

At a subsequent academy hearing, the commandant of midshipmen, Capt. William T. R. Bogle, implied that none of the four women was credible.

He informed one of the accusers that Ward would not be tried criminally, adding: "That decision, in and of itself, says something with regard to the evidence and the testimony of all the people involved."

Some of Ward's friends go further. His arrest, they say, was the result of the academy's attempts to raise sexual conduct standards to an impossible level.

Asked whether Ward might have been "overly aggressive" with women, a SEAL candidate friend reacted with exasperation.

"What's overly aggressive?" asks the friend, who like other midshipmen and recent graduates wary of tainting their military careers asked not to be named. "We're going to be SEALs. We're going to get our butts shot off.

"You drink, and they're asking you to be incredibly sensitive to the mood of someone you've already slept with," he says. "They're asking you to be superhuman."

Exactly what happened between Ward and each accuser may && never be known. The academy, citing privacy rules, refused to discuss details of the investigation. Ward and three of his accusers either turned down or did not respond to requests for interviews.

But there is a consistent pattern in the allegations, supported not only by the accusers but by other midshipmen who witnessed his behavior: that Ward, after returning from Annapolis bars, would enter women's rooms uninvited and pressure them to have sex.

The following account was pieced together from interviews with more than two dozen midshipmen, including one of Ward's accusers, graduates and others.

The prep school girlfriend

The earliest incident that led to an assault charge against Ward involved a woman from California he had dated at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Rhode Island, where they both spent a year before coming to Annapolis.

They ended the relationship during their freshman year. But the woman's roommate says Ward visited their dorm room in their junior and senior years and made unwanted sexual advances to the ex-girlfriend.

One night in the fall of 1994, the roommate arrived minutes after Ward left and found the woman in tears. The roommate would not discuss in detail what happened, but Ward's former girlfriend ultimately accused him of "nonconsensual sex," or rape.

Ward insists any sex with her was consensual, according to a close friend. He says that after the alleged assault, the woman often came up and chatted with Ward between classes. "If you saw them together, you'd think they were old friends," says Ward's friend.

At the Article 32 hearing, William B. Cummings, Ward's attorney, claimed the woman and Ward continued a sexual relationship after they stopped dating. His questioning of the woman raised doubts about the nature of their sexual encounters, and the Navy investigator found insufficient evidence to prosecute Ward for rape.

The plebe and her mentor

The sexual advances alleged by a second woman began a few months after that alleged rape. Three years younger than Ward, she was assigned as his trainee during "plebe summer," the tough, six-week introduction to military life. He won her admiration, encouraging her when she was homesick and occasionally running with her and her roommates.

During her second semester, she says, Ward began inviting her to study in an isolated basement room in Bancroft Hall. More than once, he dropped his pants and tried to get her to fondle him, she says. Each time she rebuffed him, she says, but she admits returning to the room to study with him.

One Saturday in April 1995, the woman says, Ward gave her a ride to the house of her sponsors, a couple participating in a program to give midshipmen a home away from home. When the sponsors left and the woman went upstairs to change, she says, Ward followed her, pulled off her shorts and raped her.

Earlier this year, the woman says, Ward came into her room late at night on several occasions and tried to talk her into having sex. The last time, he got into bed, saying, "Make love to me," and only left when she threatened to wake her roommate.

Days later, the woman visited Ward after he left her an urgent message and found him red-eyed, huddled under a blanket. He told her he had been charged with sexual assault and stripped of his rank; he urged her to tell investigators everything that happened between them was consensual. But on April 4, under questioning by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, she said Ward had raped her and made other unwanted advances.

Ward admits to a sexual relationship with the 20-year-old but says it was consensual, his friend says. Ward argues the woman only brought the charge to avoid punishment for "fraternization," a forbidden relationship with a superior that can lead to expulsion.

At the May 1 hearing, Ward's lawyer seized on her deeply contradictory feelings about Ward. Cummings argued she was in love with his client. He displayed friendly e-mail messages from her and a card she left for Ward wishing him well -- after she learned of the investigation.

In an e-mail message to a friend after filing the charges, the woman shared her turmoil. "I was so torn between my friendship with Scott and doing what I knew was right," she wrote. "I had put it all behind me. And each time he has done it recently, I just forget about it. I hate him for what he did to me, but at the same time I feel so bad for being the reason that he was gone."

Under Cummings' persistent questioning, the woman's ambivalence toward Ward undercut her charges. Again, the investigative officer found insufficient evidence to prosecute.

An academy lawyer has since notified her that she may be charged with fraternization.

To Jeff McFadden, an Annapolis lawyer and 1979 academy graduate, Ward's behavior was unacceptable even if the woman had never objected to sexual relations.

"There is no such thing as a consensual relationship between a superior and a subordinate, particularly between an upperclassman and a plebe," he says. "The environment is such in Bancroft Hall that almost nothing the plebe does is 'consensual.' "

Another charge dropped

A third accuser was an honor student who, unlike the others, was a member of Ward's military company; they attended classes together and ate dinner at the company table. Her charge, the least serious of the four, involved a single incident earlier this year.

Now a graduate, the woman told investigators that one night, Ward came into her room drunk, climbed into bed where she was sleeping and began to give her a back rub, according to friends. She awoke and told him to leave, they say, which he eventually did.

"She was in bed, and totally surprised," says a friend of the woman. The friend says she'd seen Ward behave inappropriately with women on other occasions when he'd been drinking. "You learned to watch it," she says.

After the Article 32 hearing, the naval investigator found credible a charge of "unlawful entry" into the woman's room. But three weeks later, when Ward's lawyer got the hearing reopened, a new witness claimed to have seen another male midshipman near the woman's room. Cummings argued the woman could have mistaken the man who got in bed with her; the investigator dropped the charge.

Questions of credibility

Last winter, Ward and Naomi Jackson began dating. Jackson, 21, was a star javelin thrower from Bedford, N.Y.

By late March, they had broken up. Not long after, in the early hours of March 29, according to her account, Ward came into her room drunk and got in her bed. He took off his shorts, began fondling her and demanded sex, Jackson told others, but she refused.

Jackson's roommate, Maureen McFarland, says she woke up when someone knocked at the door, but fell back asleep. The next morning, Jackson told her Ward had been in the room and had been "out of line."

"From what I know, I don't think she's lying about it," she says.

While Ward dated Jackson, he came into her room drunk several times, says a midshipman who witnessed it. "Naomi would say, 'You gotta go, we have to get some sleep,' and he wouldn't leave," this midshipman says.

Ward denies doing anything inappropriate, two close friends say. That night, he was drinking in Annapolis with other SEAL candidates and the admiral in charge of the program. Eager to talk about the experience, they say, Ward stopped by Jackson's room, stayed for 30 minutes and left.

Unlike the other women, Jackson filed a complaint right away. Her friends and sponsors say the normally outgoing Jackson grew quiet and sad.

And her troubles only got worse: The day she testified against Ward, Jackson was caught in a lie about why she skipped a mandatory military dinner. Found guilty of violating the academy's honor code, she was threatened with expulsion and escaped with two months' probation.

Meanwhile, Ward got a break. Another senior, Patty Restrepo, reported that four days before the alleged assault, she heard her roommate and Jackson discussing how a sexual assault charge would ruin Ward's career. Cummings said the statement showed Jackson plotted against Ward.

Neither Jackson nor the other woman involved in the conversation had a chance to tell their side, according to Jackson's lawyer. Restrepo wouldn't comment.

The investigator, who had planned to press an indecent assault charge against Ward, dropped it. Now the academy is investigating Jackson for having sex in the dorm "on several occasions" and "making false statements obstruction of justice; and perjury."

'We're not protecting him'

Like complex date-rape cases at civilian colleges, the Scott Ward case has left both students and officials struggling to sort out the contradictory accounts.

"I don't think there's anyone out there who doesn't see this as a puzzle," says Ensign L. Allen White Jr., a 1996 graduate from Baton Rouge, La., who socialized with Ward.

Legal experts say the toughest sexual assault cases to prosecute are those in which the accuser and accused have a prior sexual relationship. But friends and supporters of the women say the academy's investigation was flawed.

Contrary to standard civilian practice, Navy prosecutors permitted Ward's attorney to question his accusers outside court. They didn't call witnesses to rebut Restrepo's suggestion of a plot against Ward. Naval investigators never interviewed Jackson's roommate, McFarland, who would have supported her account.

Academy officials say they have done their best to be fair in handling a difficult case. They say the academy is redoubling its efforts to be sensitive to sexual harassment, noting that the superintendent, Admiral Charles R. Larson, called a closed-door meeting of all women midshipman in April to talk about the problem. They insist the administration is neither retaliating against the women nor seeking to exonerate Ward.

"Absolutely not," says Lt. Scott Allen, an academy spokesman. "There wasn't sufficient evidence for a court martial. But they're going to an administrative conduct hearing. We are not protecting him."

But some at the academy say more needs to be done. Professor James Barry, who wrote in a recent newspaper article that the academy covers up its problems, has called for a sexual harassment hot line and "an impartial civilian" to monitor complaints.

Last year, Alicia Chiaramonte, the May graduate now in the Marines, worked on a date-rape video that was shown to the entire brigade just before the Ward case broke. In the film, she played the rape victim; a man on the rugby team played the accused.

Students tittered at the opening scenes, she says, but by the end of the video, the audience was silent and thoughtful.

"The reason we have so much training is we have a problem with sexual harassment at the academy," Chiaramonte says. "If someone uses their leadership, their authority to their advantage, that's terrible."

Pub Date: 7/20/96

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