Military could learn from police in sexual assault cases

If you need more evidence that much of the U.S. military treats sexual assault like one big frathouse joke, look no further than what allegedly happened outside a bar near Washington in the early morning hours of Cinco de Mayo.

That’s where the 41-year-old lieutenant colonel in charge of the Air Force’s sexual-assault prevention program allegedly groped the breasts and butt of a woman in a parking lot of a bar in Arlington, Va., police said.

The police report said he was drunk. And if you’ve been wondering why he had cuts on his face in his police mug shot, a witness told me that the woman pulled out a cellphone and started hitting him with it.

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski was “removed from his position immediately” when the Air Force learned of his arrest, an Air Force spokeswoman at the Pentagon said earlier this week.

But then something revealing happened. The military tried to take the case away from the Arlington police.

Department of Defense people asked the Arlington County Commonwealth’s Attorney, Theo Stamos, to just turn it over to them. Don’t bother with your little county court stuff, why don’t you just let us handle our boy over here at the Pentagon?

But Stamos, to her credit, refused.

“They did ask that we relinquish prosecution, and we didn’t,” said Stamos, who has spent a career working just beyond the Pentagon’s doorstep.

“Obviously, being where we are in Arlington, we have to prosecute members of the military routinely,” Stamos said. But this was the first time in her two decades as a prosecutor that the military ever asked for a case, and she was pretty surprised by the request.

The case was on her turf.

It had been a slow night in Arlington — there was a stolen Buick LaSabre and a burglary with a Dell laptop, a gold ring and $60 taken. So cops responded quickly when the woman called for help at about 12:30 a.m. Sunday.

Arlington Police Cpl. Geoffrey Gammell arrived, a man as beefy and close-cropped as Krusinski, and treated the incident with the seriousness that it deserved. He booked Krusinski, who is scheduled to be arraigned in Arlington County District Court Thursday afternoon, on a misdemeanor charge of sexual battery.

Some people say Krusinki is a familiar figure along this faded strip of restaurants and pubs in Arlington. It’s walking distance from the Pentagon and his apartment.

One waitress I interviewed recognized his booking mug right away. “Oh, he’s the one who orders just sausages” when he’s been drinking.

“He’s nice!” she said. “I feel bad for him.”

Krusinski, an Air Force Academy graduate with lots of military medals and no public record of lawbreaking, is a guy who puts a football field as his Facebook profile photo, stays in touch with his high school wrestling buddies from Ohio and lists sports pubs and Malcolm Gladwell books as his Facebook “likes.”

At one of his “liked” bars in Arlington, the folks said he’s a regular. He’s known as a nice guy, no problems. At another, the bartender told me I had to talk to the owner when I asked her if she knows Krusinski.

One of her customers, a guy with his federal identification badge hanging around his neck, a pint in front of him and an unlit cig dangling from his lips threw his head back and laughed: “As your personal, public-affairs specialist I say, well played,” he told the bartender.

The owner, who offered a friendly handshake and a bright smile, said he’s never seen Krusinski there.

The person I really want to talk to is the woman who smacked him with her cellphone. (The witness to her response asked not to be identified.) She’s my new hero. His rank didn’t matter one bit to her, if she was even aware of it.

For decades, women in the military brave enough to point a finger at their attackers were often ignored or punished.

That selective deafness may not be limited to men, either. The day after Krusinski’s arrest, we learned that Lt. Gen Susan Helms, who is also an astronaut, granted clemency earlier this year to a convicted ex-offender. Her decision may cost her a promotion, The Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock reported.

Same thing happened in February, when Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin tossed out a star fighter pilot’s sexual-assault conviction and ordered his release from prison.

Just as the Cinco de Mayo haze cleared on Siete de Mayo, the Pentagon released a report showing a gigantic increase in reports of sexual assaults over the past two years.

There were 3,374 recorded reports of sexual assault in 2012, compared with 3,192 the previous year. That’s a 35 percent jump. Some studies estimate that only about 17 percent of the victims ever report the attacks, making it difficult to know the extent of the problem.

The Defense Department also used an anonymous survey to learn that 26,000 people — men and women — experienced “unwanted sexual contact” last year, another big increase from about 19,300 in 2010.

The military needs to start taking this problem seriously because it keeps getting worse.

Gammell was right to arrest Krusinski that night. And Stamos deserves kudos for refusing to turn a case on her turf over to military investigators.

Hey Pentagon commanders, look over that 395 freeway onramp, just past the McDonald’s and Macy’s, and see how allegations of sexual assault ought to be dealt with. Like a potential crime.

© 2013, The Washington Post

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