Favoritism for Navy's star denied Ex-leader calls sex away from academy less serious violation

June 25, 1998|By Neal Thompson | Neal Thompson,SUN STAFF

Charles Larson, the recently retired Naval Academy superintendent, yesterday defended his handling of a sexual misconduct case in which three midshipmen faced expulsion but a fourth -- football star Chris McCoy -- did not.

Larson said two things are not tolerated at the school: drugs, and sex in the dormitory. He said his decision was consistent with that maxim, and he denied giving a star athlete special treatment -- as the other midshipmen have alleged.

"I don't give preferential treatment," Larson said, responding to a story in The Sun about the case. Noting that McCoy's sexual encounters took place outside academy grounds, he added, "These four people were treated according to their offenses."

The four are McCoy, junior Aaron Smith, sophomore Kevin McGlathery and freshman Felicia Harris. Each of the men had a sexual relationship with Harris last fall, and all four were charged with violating academy rules that ban dating between freshmen and upperclassmen.

Smith, 22, of Silver Spring, and Harris, 19, of Mitchellville, were expelled. McGlathery, 21, of Chicago, quit before his expulsion could become final.

McCoy, 22, was punished and placed on severe restrictions during his final months, but was allowed to graduate in May.

He is on temporary assignment at the academy before going to Surface Warfare Officers' School in Rhode Island. McCoy, who broke team records as quarterback and co-captain, is seeking an early release from his five-year commitment to the Navy so he can play for the Green Bay Packers.

The other three midshipmen wrote to Navy Secretary John Dalton, complaining that the academy went easy on McCoy because of his star status. Smith is asking Dalton to overturn his expulsion. Harris also sought an appeal but has since decided to accept her expulsion.

Navy spokeswoman Lt. Merritt Allen said yesterday that the expulsions have not been finalized and that the midshipmen's complaints are "currently under review by the chief of naval personnel."

It is rare for the Navy secretary to overturn an academy expulsion, but not unprecedented.

In 1996, Jennifer Della Barba was expelled just days before graduation for lying during an investigation of alleged sexual misconduct. The academy found her not guilty of fraternizing with her boyfriend, who was found sleeping in her bed. But she was found guilty of lying and was expelled by Larson. Dalton overturned Larson's decision, and Della Barba is now in the Navy.

Ever since the academy became co-ed in 1976, it has wrestled with the accompanying issues of sexual activity among students. Behavior that is typical among men and women in their late teens and early 20s, such as drinking and sex, are tightly restricted at the academy.

"There are a lot of things we do differently," Larson said. "We hold them to a higher standard, and the midshipmen understand it and accept it."

But such standards also expose the academy to criticism for punishing behavior acceptable at most universities.

Larson said he drew distinctions in punishing the four midshipmen because of the locations of the sexual encounters. Harris had sex with Smith and McGlathery in buildings on campus; she and McCoy had sex at an Annapolis hotel.

"The young woman had multiple acts of intercourse inside Bancroft Hall and on the Yard," Larson said. "With Mr. McCoy, her offense was of the other variety -- fraternization, but off the Yard. If men and women are going to live together in a professional environment aboard a ship, we have to learn to do that with our professional training of midshipmen, too."

But Harris, Smith and McGlathery say Larson's explanation is a cover-up to avoid bad publicity for the football star.

Harris, Smith and McGlathery were found guilty of three major offenses under the academy's conduct code. McCoy was found guilty of five major offenses, including sexual misconduct and unauthorized absence from the academy, when he went to the hotel during final exams.

Larson said yesterday that McCoy was wrong to have a relationship of any kind with a freshman. But he said the academy does not regulate all aspects of social life and dating among midshipmen, as long as it is discreet and "outside the wall."

"It establishes the same ground rules they'll be living with in the Navy," he said. "There's kind of a parallel between Bancroft Hall and a ship. So, to me it makes sense to prepare people to go aboard ship in a mixed-gender environment."

Pub Date: 6/25/98

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