A former top midshipman at the Naval Academy was recommended for expulsion yesterday for sexual misconduct, a case that has divided the school for nearly five months and called into question its handling of sexual assault claims.
Scott T. Ward, who earlier this year commanded half the midshipmen brigade and was headed for the Navy's elite commando team, was ordered expelled by Capt. William T. R. Bogle, the second-highest officer, after a half-hour meeting.
"We're very disappointed with it," said William B. Cummings, Ward's attorney. "We do hope when the matter is reviewed by the superintendent he'll reverse the decision."
In April, Ward's promising Navy career collapsed with his arrest on allegations that he had sexually assaulted four female classmates. But he successfully fought off criminal charges ranging from fondling to rape. By summer, the academy was investigating two of his accusers.
Yesterday, Ward, 23, of Grand Rapids, Mich., was found guilty of having consensual sex with two of the women in Bancroft Hall. Sexual activity is banned in the dormitory, just as on a Navy ship, and the offense is punishable by dismissal.
The second charge against Ward was fraternization -- an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate. In Ward's case, it involved a freshman classmate he was assigned to train when she arrived at Annapolis last year.
His expulsion must be approved by the academy's superintendent, Adm. Charles R. Larson, and Navy Secretary John H. Dalton, both of whom could order less severe punishment. If he is expelled, Ward likely would have to repay $85,000 for his education.
For the Naval Academy, the Ward case pushed to the forefront tensions over macho culture and the role of women, 20 years after they first arrived. It drew scrutiny from some members of Congress.
But Capt. Tom Jurkowsky, an academy spokesman, emphasized yesterday that "the case was reviewed on its merits, and the evidence stood on its own. The actions we took were certainly not influenced by any external pressures."
Unfairly singled out?
Disappointed and angry friends of Ward's argued, however, that he was singled out unfairly.
"They've really dragged this thing out. If Scott was guilty of [sexual misconduct], the girls were guilty, too, and no punishment was taken against them," said a close friend of Ward's, who asked not to be named for fear of tainting his military career.
His lawyer said Ward's relations with two ex-girlfriends, who later brought assault charges, predated a crackdown by Larson in late November on sexual activity in the dorm -- where all 3,400 men and 540 women live and where rules require that doors remain unlocked.
Eight weeks before graduation, three seniors and a sophomore accused Ward, then the third-ranking midshipman, of sexual assault. All four women said he came uninvited into their rooms at night, and one also accused him of raping her at the Annapolis home of her sponsors, a couple participating in a program to give midshipmen a home away from home.
But the case that seemed destined for a court-martial and possible prison term dissolved into a less serious one.
Ward argued that any sexual relations he had were consensual, and Cummings effectively discredited the women's allegations.
Two of the women acknowledged previous sexual relationships that complicated their claims, and the woman who accused him of the rape in the Annapolis home backed down on the stand, according to those familiar with the case.
The academy then turned to investigate the women. The sophomore still faces a possible fraternization charge. And a senior, Naomi Jackson, 21, of Bedford, N.Y., nearly was expelled on an unrelated honor charge and was investigated for fabricating her assault charge.
Neither woman has been charged. Jackson was found guilty of breaching the academy's strict honor concept in lying about why she missed a mandatory military dinner. But Larson gave her a second chance and she is expected to graduate Friday.
To some at the academy, the turn the case took illustrates why women are reluctant to report sexual harassment or assault: They risk being shunned or branded liars.
"I think the girls were done a horrible disservice," said a female ensign who graduated from the academy in May and soon will become an officer aboard a ship. "The Scott Ward case was a perfect example of why girls don't want to come forward with anything."
But some of Ward's friends, with his lawyer, believe a stellar young man is being driven out of the academy by a "conspiracy" of jilted women.
Ned Hogan, a retired rear admiral and carrier commander, said pursuing charges against Ward after the criminal case fell apart amounted to "double jeopardy."
"This is a construct of justice and fairness with which I am not familiar," he said. "What is going on in Uncle Sam's Navy?"
Pub Date: 8/14/96