Ohioan is center of sexual abuse investigation

Fairfield native was top Air Force official assigned to oversee sexual assault program.

The Air Force has removed a Fairfield, Ohio, native who led the service branch’s sexual assault and prevention and response unit after he was charged with groping a woman in a parking lot Sunday morning in Arlington, Va.

Lt. Col. Jeffrey R. Krusinski, 41, worked at the Pentagon as chief of the Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program for about two months prior to the alleged incident, said Capt. Candice Ismirle, an Air Force spokeswoman at the Pentagon.

The Air Force immediately removed Krusinski from the post after the alleged incident, she said.

President Barack Obama says military personnel who engage in sexual assault are betraying the uniform they are wearing. He says he has directed Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to “step up our game exponentially” to halt such assaults.

In a tough statement regarding Krusinski’s arrest, Obama said he wanted members of the armed services to hear directly from their commander in chief that such behavior is not only unacceptable, but illegal and unpatriotic.

“I don’t want just more speeches or awareness programs or training, or ultimately folks look the other way,” the president said. “We’re going to have to not just step up our game, we have to exponentially step up our game to go after this hard.”

Krusinski supervised five people in the sexual assault prevention office, which provides education, training and manages the victim reporting program, Ismirle said. She added Krusinski did not make any significant changes to Air Force programs or policy during his brief tenure.

Escalating problem

His arrest and removal comes as the Pentagon released a report Tuesday that says the number of sexual assaults reported by members of the military rose to 3,374 in 2012 from 3,192 in 2011. However, the Department of Defense estimates that as many as 26,000 service members were assaulted, based on anonymous surveys.

That number is an increase over the 19,000 estimated assaults in 2011.

The Air Force reported also a 33 percent increase reported sexual assaults from 594 in 2011 to 790 in 2012.

Ismirle said a number of factors could have contributed to the rise in reported assaults, including pursuing sexual assault prevention and encouraging victims to report incidents. The military branch also started a 60-lawyer special victims counsel to address sexual assault issues that victims confront.

The military has convicted more than a dozen boot camp instructors of misconduct at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, on charges ranging from fraternization to sexual assault with recruits. The Air Force has drawn congressional scrutiny after questions arose when a lieutenant general overturned the recent conviction of a lieutenant colonel accused of sexual misconduct in Italy.

Krusinski did not return calls or emails for comment. Michael J. Davis, a Mason attorney who represented Krusinski in his 2009 divorce, declined comment. The couple divorced after 14 years, and she still remains in Butler County with their two children, according to online court records. They are scheduled to appear in the Butler County Domestic Relations Court on June 17 on another legal matter, the records show.

Neither his ex-wife nor her attorney returned calls for comment.

Changing a culture

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, co-chairman of the Military Sexual Assault Prevention Caucus, said the alleged groping incident was "both a personal and a professional failure" of the officer and goes beyond irony because it raises the issue of the culture of the military.

Noting the rising number of military sexual assault cases within ranks, Turner said: "This incident shows we have a long way to go to address what is criminal activity."

The congressman said he's working U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., on legislation to strip military commanders of the authority to overturn sexual offense convictions under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Merle Wilberding, an attorney representing the family of slain Marine Lance Cpl. Maria Lauterbach, said the cases involving Krusinski and in Italy "has really done great damage to the military's image. Here are two high-level officers who have acted in a way that shouts to the world that they are not serious about combating sexual assault in the military.

“If the military cannot change its culture at the top, it will never change the culture at the boots on the ground,” he said.

Lauterbach’s mother, Mary, said it was “shocking and disheartening” to hear about the latest situation, but it has forced the military to become more transparent about its “dirty little secret.”

Maria Lauterbach had accused fellow Marine Cpl. Ceasar Laurean of rape and being the father of her unborn child before she was killed. Her charred remains were found in Laurean’s backyard in North Carolina in January 2008. A jury convicted Laurean of her death. He was sentenced to life in prison in 2010.

"I do believe that at the highest levels sexual assault in the military is now recognized as a serious problem, and the leadership is becoming more aggressive in forcing a zero-tolerance climate for such behavior," said Mary Lauterbach, of Vandalia. "There is a long road ahead to create a safe environment for our troops, but an important first step is currently under way in making sexual assault a priority issue, and giving it the attention and resources that it deserves."

Air Force seeks jurisdiction

Miranda Petersen, program and policy director for the Washington, D.C.-based Protect Our Defenders, a group that advocates reform of the military justice system, said the arrest of the Air Force officer in charge of a sexual assault prevention program highlighted the status of the military’s problem with handling sexual assault.

“We see it as an example of another event in a long series of examples of a fundamentally broken system,” she told the newspaper.

Gen. Mark Welsh, the Air Force's chief of staff, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday he and Air Force Secretary Michael Donley were "appalled" by Krusinski's arrest. Although the case is being adjudicated by the Arlington County police, Welsh said the Air Force has requested jurisdiction.

“As we have both said over and over and over again, sexual assault prevention and response efforts are critically important to us,” Welsh said. “It is unacceptable that this occurs anywhere, at any time, in our Air Force.”

A police report said, “A drunken male subject approached a female victim in a parking lot and grabbed her breasts and buttocks. The victim fought the suspect off as he attempted to touch her again.”

Police said Krusinski was allegedly drunk when he attempted grope the woman in a Crystal City parking lot about 12:30 a.m. Sunday. The woman, who told police she did not know Krusinski, fought him off and called police, the report said.

When police arrived at the scene, they found Krusinski in the area and he was arrested and charged with misdemeanor sexual battery. The alleged incident happened within two blocks of Krusinski’s apartment.

The Arlington County Sheriff’s office said Krusinski was released Sunday on a $5,000 personal recognizance bond. An arraignment is scheduled for Thursday. Police did not confirm how Krusinski received scratches on his face and a bruised lip.

Hagel said he spoke with Donley about Krusinski and “expressed outrage and disgust over the troubling allegations and emphasized that this matter will be dealt with swiftly and decisively,” Pentagon press secretary George Little said in a statement.

Public records showed Krusinski lived in Fairfield, Liberty Twp. and West Chester Twp. in the past. He is a 1990 graduate of Fairfield High School.

Krusinski served as an Air Force personnel officer. Prior to the Pentagon post he had held, he was a squadron commander at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., and served as deputy group commander for Joint Base in Balad, Iraq, according to his online resume. Krusinski's resume also noted he attended the U.S. Air Force Academy from 1990 to 1994, where he received a psychology degree, and has received a post graduate degrees from St. Mary's University and the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

At AFIT, he earned a master's degree in logistics in 2007. While at the academy, Krusinski was a member of the Falcons' baseball team, where he earned varsity letters in 1991 and 1994, according to the school's website.

Hagel said any military member found guilty of sexual assault should be held accountable, prosecuted and fired.

In a grim assessment, he said the military “may be nearing a stage where the frequency of this crime and the perception that there is tolerance of it could very well undermine our ability to effectively carry out the mission and to recruit and retain the good people we need.”

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., one of the most vocal critics of the military’s efforts to stop sexual assaults, pressed Welsh on what qualifications Krusinski had for the job and whether Welsh reviewed his personnel file since his arrest to see if there were any red flags.

Welsh said he found nothing irregular in Krusinski’s file.

Staff writer Mary McCarty and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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