The US Army’s top prosecutor for sexual assault cases has been suspended amid allegations he groped and tried to kiss a lawyer working for him, sources said. Meanwhile, the Senate has blocked a proposal to realign how the military handles sex crime cases.
A female Army lawyer has alleged that Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Morse groped her and attempted to kiss her against her wishes while the two attended a sexual assault legal conference in Alexandria, Virginia over two years ago, Stars and Stripes reported Thursday.
Morse is the supervisor of the Army’s special victims prosecutors that focus on cases involving sexual assault, domestic abuse, and crimes against children. The incident that led to the current allegations against him occurred before he was in his current position.
There have been no charges filed yet in the case, as the investigation into the allegations is ongoing, according to Stars and Stripes’ anonymous sources. AFP confirmed the investigation with two anonymous military officers.
"We can confirm that this matter is currently under investigation and that the individual in question has been suspended from duties, pending the outcome of the investigation," a defense official said, AFP reported.
"Given that this is still an open case, we are precluded from providing any additional information at this point," the official added.
News of the Morse investigation comes on the same day that the US Senate voted to block legislation that proposed alterations to how the US military handles sex crime investigations.
The bill, championed by Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, suggested taking prosecutorial authority in sex crimes cases away from senior military commanders. The legislation fell five votes short of Senate passage.
Supporters of the bill maintain that the chain of command suppresses rape and assault allegations to shield top officials from reprisal or embarrassment. The Pentagon was the leading opponent of the measure, declaring that it must have as much control of subordinates as possible.
In addition, the trial of Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair began on Thursday. Sinclair has been accused of sexual assault among other charges. His lawyer said Wednesday that he will plead guilty to three lesser charges while maintaining innocence on the more serious charges related to claims of coerced oral sex.
Meanwhile, an investigative report by The Daily Beast revealed Thursday that a female Air Force informant was raped while working undercover for the Air Force's Office of Special Investigations. Airman First Class Jane Neubauer said that her superiors, though initially sympathetic when she reported the incident, soon cut off communications with her.
Neubauer is now under investigation for unspecified reasons. She also believes the Air Force has used her subsequent bouts of depression and suicidal thoughts – as well as her dropping out of the Air Force’s meteorology program and a DUI infraction – to discredit her account of rape.
In November, the former head of an Air Force sexual assault prevention program was acquitted of an assault charge. Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski was charged with assault and battery after being accused of grabbing a woman's buttocks and breasts in a parking lot.
A recent Pentagon study showed that within the ranks of the military, the number of service members who say they’ve been sexually assaulted during the last year amounted to roughly 26,000 – though not all of those incidents were reported.
According to data obtained by AP, there were more than 5,000 sexual assault reports during the 2013 fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30. By contrast, there were 3,374 incidents reported in 2012. Some posit that increased reports are ultimately a good sign, given that it could indicate that more victims are speaking up.
Morse was the lead prosecutor in the criminal case against Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, who received a life sentence for slaughtering 16 Afghan civilians in 2012.