Academy chief defends dismissals Naval Academy head says reports of kissing incident have been "incorrectly cast."

April 02, 1991|By Monica Norton | Monica Norton,Evening Sun Staff

The superintendent of the Naval Academy says recent media reports about the dismissal of a male and female midshipmen because of a hug and a kiss have been "incorrectly cast," but he declined to elaborate out of privacy concerns.

In the March 29 edition of the Trident, the academy's newspaper, Rear Adm. Virgil L. Hill Jr. indirectly addressed the controversy of Midshipmen Casey Jones and Donna Kuntz. The two were dismissed from the academy after they shared what they described as a platonic hug and kiss and were found guilty of lying about the incident.

"We have seen a great deal written recently by people who do not have first-hand knowledge about the Naval Academy," Hill's commentary said. "There also has been reporting about certain incidents by journalists who do not have specific details and facts.

"While much of that reporting has been incorrectly cast, you will not see the Naval Academy leap up and attempt to set the record straight. To do so would be a violation of the Privacy Act and the personal rights of those involved."

But Vonzell Ward, the assistant secretary of state for Maryland who has been an ardent supporter of the academy and who has counseled midshipmen, said he believes the academy overreacted because of the criticism it received last year for the hazing of a female midshipman.

"I don't like beating up on the academy but this [dismissal] leaves a bad taste in my mouth about the way things were handled," Ward said.

Jones, a junior who had never received any demerits in his three years at the academy, had often given advice to Kuntz, a sophomore. On Sept. 9 at 1:30 a.m. while in Jones' room, Kuntz gave Jones a hug and a kiss on the cheek after she sought him out for help.

A fellow midshipman conducting bed checks opened Jones' door just as Kuntz gave Jones the hug and kiss. The two were questioned and both denied any sexual misconduct. They did not acknowledge the hug and kiss.

An initial honor board hearing dismissed the incident, but a second hearing was requested by a fellow midshipman who was the presiding officer in the first hearing, Ward said.

During the second hearing, academy officials found that Jones and Kuntz had lied about the hug and the kiss and recommended dismissal. The two were dismissed four months after the incident.

The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, is interviewing classmates and officers about the case. The action is part of a larger investigation the Senate Armed Services Committee ordered last year following disclosures of sexual harassment, hazing and inconsistencies in honor-code violations at the nation's three service academies.

Vonzell Ward said his problems with the suspensions lie with the midshipmen being submitted to two hearings.

"I am really angry," Ward said. "The first honor board dismissed this thing. I do not understand how you can have an individual say you're going to do it over again. What was the second honor board going to do? It really bothers me that an individual can overrule the finding of the first board.

"I was a cop for eight years. Double jeopardy should apply. But the academy says this is not a court trial. It's an administrative hearing."

Double jeopardy prohibits criminal defendants from being tried and convicted of the same crime.

Ward said the two were dismissed because those who sat on the honor board did not find Jones "to be remorseful enough." Following the second hearing, Ward said, a lieutenant told him that maybe the intent to lie hadn't been present but something wrong happened and something had to be done.

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