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Cadet accused of inappropriate touching

By Izaskun E. Larrañeta

Publication: theday.com

Published April 02. 2014 12:00PM   Updated April 03. 2014 12:40PM

New London — During a hearing Wednesday at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, two accounts were given of events last Sept. 15.

In one version, a cadet, later identified as First Class Cadet Alexander Stevens, entered a female cadet's room, climbed on a chair to reach the loft-style bed, put his hand under the blanket and began to touch the woman on the inner thigh, stopping only when she awoke, yelled and startled him, prompting him to leave the room.

In another version, Stevens admitted to being drunk and mistakenly entering a room that he thought belonged to his girlfriend.

Investigating officer Lt. Cmdr. Cassie Kitchen must sift through testimony and exhibits and make a recommendation as to Stevens' fate. She could recommend that the offenses be dismissed, dealt with administratively or referred for trial by court-martial. Rear Adm. Sandra Stosz, superintendent of the academy, will get the recommendation and make the final decision.

No verdict or sentencing was handed down Wednesday. It could be weeks before a recommendation is made.

Stevens is accused of violating articles 120, 130 and 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the military's criminal code, which prohibits abusive sexual contact, housebreaking and unlawful entry.

Kitchen said she is also considering an additional violation of Article 134 — disorderly conduct for drunkenness — after hearing testimony from Eric Gempp, a special agent in the Coast Guard Investigative Services, who said Stevens admitted drinking at three bars in New London and getting drunk on the day before the incident.

The alleged victim, a third-class cadet, was the first to take the witness stand Wednesday.

On the night in question, she said, she heard her door open and thought it was her roommate coming in, but then her bed started to shake and someone began fumbling with her blanket.

The counsel for the government, Lt. Tyler McGill, asked the cadet to demonstrate how she had been touched. She raised her hand and twisted it in a slight upward motion to demonstrate.

"I saw a silhouette of a man and kicked my legs and screamed," she testified. "I asked, 'Who are you?'"

She said he immediately fled the room. The cadet said she gave chase, but he was already gone.

The cadet said she was shaking and crying when she encountered a friend in the hallway. She decided to report the incident.

At some point, while still in the hallway with her superior, she said, she saw someone who resembled the suspect. He was identified as Stevens.

She said Stevens was not a friend, and he had no permission to enter her room.

Counsel for the defense Lt. John Cole asked her whether it really was possible to identify Stevens, because it was dark. She maintained that she could make out Stevens' silhouette.

Cole asked the cadet what she thought should happen to Stevens.

"I think he should be kicked out of the Coast Guard," she said. "I think he should be a registered sex offender, and I think he should go to jail."

She said that after the incident her grades suffered, she was afraid to stay alone in the barracks, and it was difficult for her to concentrate.

Gempp said Stevens had given a voluntary statement Sept. 23, admitting he had been drinking at three New London bars that day. Stevens said he returned to the academy with his girlfriend, Second Class Cadet Claire Buss, around midnight. The two argued and walked back separately.

Gempp said Stevens admitted being drunk and entering the room thinking it was Buss' room, but said he left quickly when he realized he had the wrong room.

Buss also testified. She said she and Stevens had started to get serious last April, and he had visited her room at least once a day. She said he sometimes would climb onto her desk chair to reach her bunk and wake her up.

During the fall semester, Buss said, she had moved into another room, one with a single bed and desk. Buss also said she, too, had heard of cadets entering the wrong room.

Two more witnesses testified, with one saying Stevens denied that he had been wandering the hallways. Both said they didn't report the incident to the company commander immediately because they initially felt that someone had mistakenly entered the wrong room.

The final witness at the hearing was Chief Robert Cain, who said Stevens told him on Sept. 16 that he had accidentally entered the wrong room and had startled the cadet inside. Cain said Stevens told him that he felt bad for frightening the woman.

Stevens opted not to make a statement during the hearing.

During its closing, the government — represented by McGill and Lt. Cmdr. Bryan Pape — said the seriousness of the charges warranted a court-martial.

McGill said Stevens had been on a mission for sexual gratification and had taken advantage of a classmate who was below his rank. He said the room Stevens entered was about 300 feet from his girlfriend's room.

But Cole countered that the government had not proven sexual intent. He said Stevens had made a "mental mistake" because he was drunk. The act of touching the cadet on the leg, he said, should not warrant a court-martial, which could lead to prison. Instead, Cole suggested that an administrative punishment, which could lead to expulsion, was more suitable.

The only cadet ever court-martialed at the Coast Guard Academy was tried on sexual assault charges in 2006. Webster M. Smith was convicted on extortion, sodomy and indecent-assault charges and was acquitted of rape.

i.larraneta@theday.com

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