Only 3 officers to face assault charges in Tailhook scandal

August 17, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Although a Pentagon investigative agency determined that as many as 140 servicemen were involved in alleged sexual misconduct at the Tailhook Association convention in 1991, only two Navy fliers and one Marine Corps officer are facing charges of assault resulting from the scandal.

While lesser charges of unbecoming conduct and other infractions are still being reviewed against others, the three servicemen named in the more serious assault charges are accused of attacking only a handful of women.

Four months ago, however, the Pentagon Inspector General's office concluded that as many as 83 women were sexually assaulted as they were forced through a gantlet of drunken males at a Las Vegas hotel and during other debaucheries at the annual Navy fliers' convention there.

Officials said that while no more assault charges are likely, Navy and Marine Corps prosecutors are continuing to pursue various lesser charges against other officers who were present during the fliers' convention.

Several Navy officers already have been charged with lesser offenses, such as unbecoming conduct and failing to obey superiors in the incident. No members of the Marine Corps have been named in any lesser allegations.

Military prosecutors declined to discuss details yesterday on why so few servicemen were charged with assault in the scandal.

Cmdr. John Tull, a Navy spokesman, said that the more serious assault charges were filed only when the allegations "were corroborated by independent evidence, such as a witness statement or a photo."

Asked why more assault charges were not filed, he said: "Draw your own conclusions."

But defense attorneys and other military sources said that, in many of the cases, the alleged victims either were unable to accurately identify their assailants or later changed their stories when they realized that they might have to testify in public.

In addition, the sources said, many of the officers present during the alleged assaults "closed ranks" and have refused to identify their colleagues. Even the assault charges that were filed appear to be on shaky ground.

The first Tailhook case was due an airing today.

Marine Capt. Gregory J. Bonam, 29, faces a hearing at the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Va., to determine whether he should be court-martialed on assault charges.

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