The Air Force officer who ran the service’s sex assault prevention office and was criminally accused of groping a woman in a Virginia parking lot may face a change in charges, a state judge ruled.
An assault and battery charge more closely fits the allegation against Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Krusinski, 41, who was accused of misdemeanor sexual battery in connection with an incident in suburban Washington near the Pentagon, Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos said.
“The appropriate charge in this case is assault and battery,” Stamos said today at a hearing in Arlington County General District Court.
Krusinski’s arrest, which stoked anger in Congress and the Obama administration, occurred two days before the Defense Department released a survey reporting that there were about 26,000 cases of unwanted sexual contact in the military in 2012, a 35 percent increase from two years earlier. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has called the assaults a “blight” and a “scourge” on the armed forces.
Judge Thomas Kelley Jr.’s dismissal of the case sets the stage for prosecutors to present evidence in August to a grand jury that could indict Krusinski on the new charge, also a misdemeanor that carries penalties identical to sexual battery, Stamos said after the hearing.
Conviction on either charge is punishable by a fine of as much as $2,500 or up to a year in prison, or both, she said.
Krusinski’s attorney, Barry Coburn, said his client was initially charged with a sex crime because of his Air Force position.
“Given what his job was, the reason this matter became newsworthy in the first place is because he was charged with a sex offense,” Coburn said. “We disagree with the decision to charge him with a criminal offense at all.”
Stamos said Krusinski’s job “had nothing and has nothing to do with this prosecution.”
Stamos declined to discuss the evidence against Krusinski. Assault and battery under Virginia law involves unwanted touching, while sexual battery covers unwanted touching accompanied by “force, threat, intimidation or ruse”, Stamos said.
Krusinski was arrested May 5 in Arlington after he allegedly approached a woman “and grabbed her breasts and buttocks,” according to a county police statement. The incident occurred at 12:35 a.m. and Krusinski was drunk, police said.
“Once the civilian trial is complete, we will separately assess the facts and evidence in the case and determine if there are applicable disciplinary or administrative actions that are appropriate,” Lieutenant Colonel Laurel Tingley, an Air Force spokeswoman, said in an e-mailed statement before the hearing today. She declined to comment further on the case.
Krusinski had been branch chief for the sexual-assault prevention and response office since February. He was removed from the job pending an investigation of the parking-lot incident, the Air Force said at the time of his arrest. He has been free on bail since.
The Air Force has revamped the office, increasing its staff to 31 from four and putting a general in charge. The expanded office began operating June 3 under Major General Margaret Woodward, who reports to the Air Force vice chief of staff, according to an e-mailed statement from Lieutenant Colonel Jill Whitesell, an Air Force spokeswoman.
“The Air Force recognized the need for a more prominent, stand-alone, directorate-level office,” Whitesell said.
Such efforts haven’t mollified New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who opposes the practice of letting the military chain of command decide whether sexual assault cases are prosecuted. Her push to give that authority to military prosecutors instead picked up support this week from two Republican colleagues, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas.
“There is no accountability because the trust that any justice will be served has been irreparably broken under the current system where commanders hold all the cards,” Gillibrand said in remarks prepared for a news conference yesterday.
Assault victims “may be deterred from reporting their assault if they have to report it to their boss,” Paul said at yesterday’s press conference.
Krusinski was commissioned in 1994 after his graduation from the Air Force Academy. He has spent the bulk of his military career in personnel posts, including stints at the Pentagon in the Air Force Intelligence Analysis Agency, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, and at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, according to the Air Force office of public affairs.
He deployed to Iraq from November 2009 to May 2010 and to Afghanistan from August 2011 to February 2012, records show.
The case is Virginia v. Krusinski, GC13002001-00, Arlington County General District Court (Arlington, Virginia).
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