Coast Guard committed to transparency in handling of sexual assault cases

Written by Cmdr. Chris O’Neil, Public Affairs Officer, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Military Campaign Office.

Breakout sessions completed at the Coast Guard’s inaugural Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Summit resulted in a consistent theme that greater transparency about the Coast Guard’s handling of sexual assault is necessary to increase awareness within the organization that sexual assault is a service-wide issue.

The Coast Guard implemented a communication strategy in August aimed directly at that need and has adopted a posture that favors the release of information about military justice cases involving charges of sexual assault. This effort will help provide the entire workforce, and other audiences, situational awareness of the service’s handling of sexual assault allegations while also demonstrating the fair and objective administration of justice and application of due process.

The service intends, when possible after consultation with the servicing staff judge advocate, the sexual assault survivor and with the approval of the convening authority, to issue news releases when an Article 32 hearing convenes, when an Article 32 hearing closes, when a decision is made whether or not to proceed to a court-martial, when a court martial convenes, when a verdict is reached, and, if a court-martial results in a conviction, when a sentence is imposed.

All Coast Guard news releases can be viewed at www.uscgnews.com. This blog post provides a summary of the most recent information released by the service about sexual assault cases.

The 13th Coast Guard District recently announced a Coast Guardsman convicted of making false official statements, conducting the indecent act of making visual material of another person without their consent, possession and attempted receipt of child pornography and wrongfully agreeing to engage in sexual conduct for a fee was sentenced by a military judge to 48 months confinement, a dishonorable discharge and reduction in pay grade to E-1, Sept. 13, 2013, after pleading guilty at a general court-martial.

In accordance with a pre-trial agreement, the sentence was limited to 18 months confinement, a bad conduct discharge and reduction in pay-grade to E-1.

Coast Guard Fireman Nicholas Fair pled guilty to one specification of making a false official statement in violation of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice Article 107, one specification of indecent conduct in violation of the UCMJ Article 120, four specifications of wrongfully and knowingly possessing and attempting to receive child pornography and wrongfully agreeing to engage in sexual conduct for a fee in violation of UCMJ Article 134.

Fair was assigned to Coast Guard Station Coos Bay, Ore., at the time the offenses occurred.

The 9th Coast Guard District recently announced a Coast Guardsman accused of sexual assault and other criminal acts will face a court-martial, scheduled to begin Sept. 16, 2013, in Norfolk, Va.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew Rogers was charged with Article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for allegedly committing a sexual assault against a civilian woman at a hotel in Portsmouth, Va., on Aug. 15, 2012.

In addition to the sexual assault charge, Rogers is charged with making a false official statement, obstructing justice and misuse of a military ID card. Rogers is also charged with Articles 81 and 134 of the UCMJ for allegedly conspiring to tamper with a command-directed urinalysis on March 15, 2013.

Rear Adm. Michael N. Parks, formerly the commander of the Coast Guard 9th District, decided to refer Rogers’ case to a general court-martial. The decision was made after investigations by the Coast Guard Investigative Service, pretrial investigations under Article 32, UCMJ, and Article 34 pretrial legal advice from the 9th District staff judge advocate.

If Rogers is found guilty of all charges, he could face up to 120 years in prison.

Rear Adm. Fred Midgette, the current commander of the 9th District, is the court-martial convening authority.

Rogers is currently serving at Coast Guard Station Marblehead, Ohio, but he is assigned to Coast Guard Cutter Alder, a 225-foot sea-going buoy tender homeported in Duluth, Minn. He was assigned to Alder and was attending training in Portsmouth at the time of the alleged sexual assault.

The Coast Guard will share the results of the court-martial following these proceedings, which are open to the public. The court-martial will take place at the Coast Guard Legal Service Command Norfolk at 300 E. Main Street.

The 17th Coast Guard District, in August, announced that a court-martial scheduled for a petty officer accused of rape and sexual assault was postponed due a procedural delay.

The court-martial of Petty Officer 3rd Class William Bisel, an aviation maintenance technician, assigned to the public works department at Coast Guard Air Station Sitka is to be rescheduled. Bisel is charged with two violations of Article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which involves sexual assault.

The decision by Rear Adm. Thomas P. Ostebo, commander, Coast Guard 17th District, is based on the recommendation of an Article 32 hearing, completed Feb. 4, 2013, that reasonable grounds exist to try Bisel for two counts of violating Article 120 of the UCMJ. The Article 32 hearing is similar to a grand jury hearing in the civilian court system.

In July, the Atlantic Area commander announced that a Coast Guard petty officer accused of rape, sexual assault, cruelty and maltreatment, making a false official statement and failure to obey a lawful order will face a court-martial expected to begin in September in Charleston, S.C.

The decision by Vice Adm. Robert C. Parker, Atlantic Area commander, is based on the recommendation of an Article 32 hearing, completed May 22, 2013, that reasonable grounds exist to try Petty Officer 2nd Class Omar Gomez, 35, for violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice including:

Article 92 – Failure to obey a lawful order and regulation
Article 93 – Cruelty and Maltreatment
Article 107 – False official statement
Article 120 – Rape, Sexual Assault, Wrongful Sexual Contact, and Indecent Exposure
Article 134 – General Articles (offenses not specifically covered in any other article of the UCMJ)

The charges follow a six-month Coast Guard investigation which revealed Gomez, the sole member charged in this case, engaged in a broad spectrum of sexually-related misconduct ranging from rape to inappropriate comments, involving two civilians and six Coast Guard women. A charge stemming from the 2006 allegation of rape of one of the civilian victims is not expected to move forward due to A decision by the victim not to participate in further legal proceedings.

The investigation began immediately after a sexual assault aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Gallatin was reported Sept. 16, 2012. The crimes allegedly occurred in May 2006 while Gomez was stationed aboard Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star in Seattle and between August 2011 and September 2012 while aboard the Gallatin. Locations of the crimes ranged from the Seattle area, Honduras, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to Charleston, South Carolina.

Gomez has been administratively assigned off of Gallatin to another unit in South Carolina. In accordance with the STRONG Act, all of Gomez’s Coast Guard victims were offered a transfer. One victim remains aboard Gallatin by choice and all others were transferred upon their requests.

“We are committed to ensuring the victims of sexual assault receive all the support and treatment they need, that their privacy is protected, and that military justice is conducted in a timely, objective and fair process,” said Parker. “We remain steadfast in our efforts to change attitudes, behavior and cultures that have allowed the crime of sexual assault to damage the lives of our shipmates. Our goal is to create a culture where every service member feels duty-bound to intervene and protect; where victims feel empowered to report offenders without fear of reprisal and where every leader creates a command climate intolerant of sexual assault, founded upon trust and mutual respect.”

The Uniform Code of Military Justice is a complete set of criminal laws that covers most crimes contained in civilian law in addition to other military-specific offenses such as failure to obey an order, desertion, etc.

If you have been, or think you may have been sexually assaulted, contact your sexual assault response coordinator, or call the Safe Helpline at 1-877-995-5247. Information about reporting options and resources for survivors of sexual assault can be found on the U.S. Coast Guard Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program website.

Information in this post was compiled from news releases authored and issued by the public affairs offices of the 9th, 17th, and 13th Coast Guard Districts and the public affairs office at Atlantic Area.

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