News (USA)

Gay airman cleared of sexual assault charges at court martial

Gay airman cleared of sexual assault charges at court martial

An out Air Force lieutenant who has been a longtime activist for gay rights in the armed forces has been found not guilty of sexual assault, in a case that took four years to reach a verdict in the military courts, reported The Blade.

Lt. Col. Andrew Kalvanos, a military judge, declared Lt. Joshua Seefried not guilty of all charges stemming from a May 2012 Fleet Week encounter with a former Marine, who is also gay.

On Monday, the very first day of testimony, the unnamed Marine acknowledged that a number of witnesses saw him and Seefried hugging, kissing and fondling one another in a hot tub in the spa of a New York City hotel, according to The Blade. He claimed over and over during his four and a half hours of testimony that he was too drunk to consent to having sex in the hot tub, in a nearby steam room, and a third time a short time later in Seefried’s hotel room. He insisted to the military court that he was the victim of sexual assault. That contradicted at least two witnesses who described him as being complicit in the sexual encounters.

The general court martial proceeding at Joint Base Andrews in Camp Springs, Md., which concluded Wednesday, was the culmination of a two-year trial. Seefried was charged in April 2014 with wrongful and abusive sexual contact and forcible sodomy in connection with the former Marine’s allegations, The Blade reported.

Seefried endured two Article 32 military hearings — similar to a civilian grand jury investigation — and each time the military investigator, Col. Robert Preston, determined there was insufficient evidence against Seefried and predicted that a court martial would most likely result in his acquittal.

Col. Preston twice recommended dropping the charges against Seefried, The Blade reported, after hearing testimony by a U.S. Coast Guard officer who said he had been with Seefried and the Marine in the hotel room when the sexual assault allegedly occurred. Lt. Commander John Fiorentine testified that the Marine had consented to a three-way sexual encounter with him and Seefried.

Despite all this, Maj. General Darryl Burke, commander of the Air Force District of Washington, overruled Preston’s recommendations and ordered that the case go to court martial. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James rejected a decision by prosecutors to allow Seefried to resign from the Air Force in lieu of a court martial.

The Blade reported that courtroom observers speculated that Burke and Lee may have overreacted to “longstanding criticism that military authorities have not adequately prosecuted sexual assault cases against women in the military.”

Matthew Thorn, executive director of OutServe-SLDN, the successor to the group Seefried cofounded with Ty Walrod, issued this statement:

“Today, Lt. Col. Andrew Kalvanos rendered his decision that Lt. Josh Seefried is innocent on all charges faced in his court martial. We respect Lt. Col. Kalvanos judgement and deliberation on this case and are appreciative that this unusually long case has finally reached a conclusion. We hope that with this conclusion we are able to move forward.

“6 years ago OutServe was created to be a network and support system for those serving under the burden of don’t ask don’t tell. We have accomplished much in the last six years but there is much more to do. We look forward to continuing the work and building on the legacy of our foundation that the LGBT military community has come to expect from us.”

Seefried’s lawyer issued the following statement on his behalf:

We are very thankful and relieved about the verdict, and obviously believe it was completely supported by the state of the evidence and testimony in the case. Moreover, it was wholly consistent with the actual truth about what happened on the night at issue. Josh has been through a lot over the past few years dealing with these false allegations, and I’m so relieved for him that he can, hopefully, get on with his life and start to rebuild his reputation after the weight of these accusations has been lifted.

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