U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, co-Chair of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus, met with White House officials today to discuss the issue of sexual assault in the military.
Turner was to meet with President Barack Obama’s senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and Tina Tchen, the chief of staff to first lady Michelle Obama.
“Today’s meeting was a positive discussion about the path forward legislatively on the issue of sexual assault in the military. The White House and congressional members in attendance were in agreement on the need to change the culture in the military which discourages the reporting of sexual assaults,” Turner said in a statement released after the meeting. “In addition, with the legislative proposals that are seriously being discussed, there are opportunities to further collaboration to create an overarching effort in the coming House and Senate National Defense Authorization Acts. I feel that there is positive momentum on this issue. I’d like to thank the White House for listening to us today. It is my hope they continue to play an active role in this issue which has a direct impact on the safety and morale of our men and women in uniform.”
Days after a Fairfield native commanding the Air Force’s sexual assault and prevention unit was arrested and accused of groping a woman in a northern Virginia parking lot, an Turner introduced a bill aimed at strengthening punishment of service members who commit sexual assault.
On Wednesday, Turner introduced legislation that would strip officers from having the power to change or dismiss a court martial conviction for any charge other than for minor offenses.
Turner introduced the bill one day before Fairfield native Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Krusinski, 41, is scheduled to be arraigned today in an Arlington, Va., courtroom on a charge of misdemeanor sexual battery for groping a woman in an parking lot Sunday morning. Krusinski, who was chief of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, has been removed from the post.
Turner’s legislation is a reaction to an Air Force lieutenant general’s February decision to overturn the sexual assault conviction of a fighter pilot at Aviano Air Base in Italy. More recently, Lt. Gen. Susan J. Helms, nominated to be vice commander of the Air Force’s Space Command, saw her nomination blocked by U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., after it was reported Helms overturned the conviction of a captain charged with aggravated sexual assault.
Turner’s bill, co-sponsored by fellow caucus chairwoman Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., would also require someone found guilty of rape, sexual assault, forcible sodomy or an attempt to commit any of those offenses be, at a minimum, dismissed or dishonorably discharged from the military.
Turner said he was “troubled” by the military’s resistance to “change its culture.”
“Only so much can be done by Congress,” he said. “It is up to the military and its leadership to come to the realization that this is not an issue of bad behavior, but that it is a crime.”
The Air Force has requested jurisdiction over the Krusinski case, but the Arlington County Commonwealth Attorney’s office decided to retain legal authority, according to Capt. Candice Ismirle, an Air Force spokeswoman at the Pentagon. The Air Force Office of Special Investigations offered to assist the police investigation, she said.
Lt. Col. Laurel Tingley, an Air Force spokeswoman, noted Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh said nothing irregular was found in Krusinski’s personnel file that would have disqualified him to lead the service’s sexual assault prevention office prior to the alleged incident. He was selected based on his past performance and command experience, Tingley told the newspaper Wednesday, though she declined to provide specific examples.
Tingley said while it was too early to discuss specifics of this case, she said in general an Air Force service member could face dual jurisdiction of both civilian and military authorities.
The secretary of the Air Force may initiate court martial proceedings or nonjudicial punishment against an airman “previously tried in a state or foreign court for substantially the same act or omission, regardless of the outcome,” and only after the case has been adjudicated, according to a service regulation. The secretary would grant approval to proceed “in only the most unusual cases when the ends of justice and discipline can be satisfied in no other way,” the regulation said.
Krusinski was a personnel officer. He was previously the Force Support Squadron commander at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., and served seven months in Iraq at Joint Base Balad, among other assignments in a two-decade career.
He is a Fairfield High School and Air Force Academy graduate, who earned a graduate degree at the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. He has lived in Fairfield, Liberty Twp., and West Chester Twp., a review of public records showed.
Fairfield Mayor Ron D’Epifanio, who has known the Krusinski family for many years, said, “He was an outstanding you man who had made some poor decisions in the past few years. He married into a wonderful, wonderful family, and it’s a shame to see what’s happened by these poor decisions.”
Also this week, the Pentagon released a report finding that the number of sexual assaults reported by service members rose from 3,192 in 2011 to 3,374 in 2012. The Defense Department estimates that as many as 26,000 service members were assaulted based on anonymous surveys, however, up from an estimated 19,000 in 2011. The Air Force reported the number of sexual assaults had jumped to 790 reported cases in 2012, up from 614 the prior year.
Turner became involved in preventing sexual assault in the military after hearing of the case of Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, a Vandalia Marine who was murdered by a fellow Marine who she had accused of raping her. Lauterbach was eight months pregnant at the time of her death.
Staff writer Eric Robinette and the Associated Press contributed to this story.