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Midshipman faces sexual assault, obstruction of justice charges in court-martial

A tug boat moves Display Ship Barry to transport the ship from the Washington Navy Yard to the Inactive Shipyard in Philadelphia. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Gregory N. Juday/Released)

A midshipman is awaiting a court-martial on sexual assault charges stemming from a March 2018 incident in Pensacola, Florida, according to charging documents.

Navy investigators charged Midshipman First Class Michael J. Wallace, 23, with sexual assault, causing bodily harm and obstruction of justice after he allegedly sexually assaulted a female sailor enlisted in the Navy Reserve, on March 11, 2018.

Wallace, from Taylor, Michigan, was scheduled to graduate in 2018, as first reported in Navy Times, and was headed to Nuclear Power School in Charleston, South Carolina to join the submarine community. But Wallace remains assigned to the academy pending the outcome of the trial, said academy spokeswoman Jenny Erickson.

A Naval Criminal Investigation Service probe found Wallace allegedly assaulted the sailor in Pensacola while she was sleeping, causing some bodily harm. Wallace was in Pensacola during free time off-base. Prosecutors said he attempted to obstruct justice by asking a second lieutenant to lie to NCIS agents and deleting communications from another sailor’s cell phone.

After reviewing the case, academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Ted Carter convened an Article 32 preliminary hearing, similar to a civilian grand jury investigation, on Nov. 7, Erickson said.

Following the hearing, Carter referred the charges to a general court-martial.

The trial will begin April 8 and is slated to extend to April 12 at the Northern Judicial Circuit at the Washington Navy Yard.

The midshipman, according to his LinkedIn page, is a Trident Scholar, was a brigade academics officer and member of the academy’s intramural soccer team. He was accepted into the Schwarzman Scholars Program at Tsinghua University in China, where he was scheduled to pursue a graduate degree in global affairs, economics and business.

Wallace is one of two midshipmen charged with sexual assault in the last two academic years.

Another midshipman, according to an annual Defense Department report on misconduct at the service academies, was charged and convicted of sexual assault in late 2017 after assaulting a female classmate. The male midshipman was dismissed from the Navy after a court-martial and sentenced to 30 months confinement. He also registered as a sex offender.

Erickson said Wallace and the other midshipman were the only two students to be charged with sexual assault in the last two school years, but could not immediately confirm the second midshipman’s name.

This year, almost 60 percent of women and 20 percent of men attending the Naval Academy said they experienced sexual harassment, according to the Defense Department report, up from 44 percent of women and 9 percent of men in 2016. Reports of sexual assault increased from 29 to 32 reports over the past two school years. The 32 reports mark the most the academy has received in more than a decade.

The academy enforces mandatory sexual harassment and assault prevention and awareness training through its office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response and the Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention Education, or SHAPE, program. Midshipmen participate in the program during every year they attend the academy. Midshipmen attend one fewer session every year, beginning with four during their plebe year.

At a recent SHAPE session, Midshipmen First Class Nash Nickerson and Marissa Stinson stood in front of their second-class peers, prompting them to think about how, as newly-minted Navy officers, they might handle a subordinate reporting sexual assault.

“Can someone talk about the wrong things that happened?” Stinson asked, referring to a video the class watched, where sailors sexually assault their fellow seaman but a superior officer doesn’t take it seriously. To the contrary, she encourages a climate of harassment and disrespect toward the new sailor.

“She addressed him, but not in the right way,” one mid answered.

“She shot him down,” said another.

Midshipman receive some form of sexual harassment training every year, be it a peer-led session like the class with Stinson and Nickerson, or a guest speaker. At the SHAPE session, the midshipman focused on life after the Naval Academy and building a culture of respect. Stinson said she thinks the lessons sink in, especially because some of the same topics repeat over the years, but ultimately, individual midshipman have to make choices about their own conduct.

“From my experience, it’s how much you want to take it in,” she said. “Unfortunately, you will encounter this in your career. For people who don’t take it seriously, it’s going to hit them hard.”

The academy will host a National Discussion on Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment at America’s Colleges, Universities and Service Academies April 4-5. It will be attended by the secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force. The two-day event is designed to allow universities to share best practices and develop strategies to reduce sexual violence in higher education.

Despite increased harassment, reporting remains virtually nonexistent. Midshipmen made just two informal harassment complaints and no formal complaints, down from 12 informal complaints made last school year. Some didn’t think the problem was serious enough to report or said they took care of the situation by avoiding the person who assaulted them, according to the survey.

Based on responses to the survey, the Defense Department estimates about 254 midshipmen have experienced some sort of unwanted sexual contact. Rates of unwanted sexual contact did not change over the last school year, according to the report.


© 2019 The Capital (Annapolis, Md.)

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