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Marine Corps commandant orders new investigation of sexual harassment claims at Quantico

Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert B. Neller speaks during a portrait unveiling ceremony at Atlanta, Ga., Dec. 2, 2015. Neller was the guest of honor speaker at retired Gen. Raymond G. Davis's portrait unveiling ceremony inside the Floyd Veterans Memorial Building. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Gabriela Garcia/Released)

Marine Corps Commandant Robert Neller has ordered a new investigation into allegations of sexual harassment brought by two civilian employees against a Marine officer, according to a Marines statement.

The allegations, first reported by USA TODAY last month, include sexually explicit overtures to the women dating to 2013 at their office on the base at Quantico, known as the “Crossroads of the Marine Corps.” The women maintain the Marine Corps had minimized their concerns.

The new investigation was ordered on March 9, two days after the paper reported about complaints of a toxic work environment at the Marine and Family Program Division where the women work.

The new probe will focus on the complaints of Sherry Yetter and Traci Sharpe. They allege that Maj. David Cheek arranged to meet them privately on several occasions on the base and showed them his erection through his clothing. Cheek has denied that the incidents took place.

“An investigating officer was appointed to re-investigate the sexual harassment allegations previously made by Ms. Yetter and Ms. Sharpe,” Maj. Garron Garn, a Marine Corps spokesman, said in a statement. “The investigating officer may examine any evidence related to the allegations. For privacy considerations, no additional details regarding the investigation are available for release at this time.”

The complaints of Yetter and Sharpe, along with others about discrimination and bad bosses, spurred the Marine Corps to launch an inspector general’s investigation in 2015 into the climate at the Marine and Family Program Division.

Among its findings was that Marine Col. Ernest Ackiss, who had investigated a sexual harassment claim made by Sharpe, was later counseled himself for harassing the wife of the unit’s chaplain, referring to her as “eye candy.” The report also showed that one civilian official was paid to leave quietly after complaints that she had created a hostile work environment. The Marines then rehired that official as a contractor to work in the same office less than two years later.

“The Marines should re-investigate these allegations, but that is step one of one hundred,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and a member of the Armed Services Committee. “The Marines have a problem with this case, with the way they staff and run the Marine and Family Program Division in at least one location, and with a broader culture of rot that fosters an environment rife with sexual harassment and violence. I look forward to being briefed by Marine leadership on the next 99 steps.”

Yetter is now the senior coordinator for sexual assault response for the Marine Corps’ recruiting command. She renewed her complaints last year after Cheek was assigned to the building where she works. Her husband, Lt. Col. Gregg Yetter, also works in the same facility.

Yetter was encouraged by the new investigation. Before she learned of it, she had concerns about retaliation against her and her husband.

“But today, with this news I feel a little more validated, I feel a little more heard, and I now have a little more hope that the true change for all victims of sexual harassment just might be coming after all,” she said.

Sharpe was less hopeful.

“While this may sound like great news on the surface, my claims have been investigated and swept under the rug three times already,” Sharpe said. “I remain cautiously optimistic that I will see true justice served this time.”

A new investigation was necessary, said Scott Jensen, CEO of Protect Our Defenders, an advocacy group for victims of sexual assault in the military and a retired Marine colonel.

“This is the only right decision to ensure justice was in fact served,” Jensen said. “These cases took way too long and too much outside pressure to ensure they were taken seriously. I hope this signals a change in leadership priorities and greater emphasis on ensuring those who need and deserve fair treatment and due process in their cases get it.”

The Marine base at Quantico is about 30 miles south of Washington.

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© 2018 USA Today

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