Mid charged in rape

Dorm room incident involving fellow student leads to accusations against senior quarterback

February 23, 2006|By BRADLEY OLSON | BRADLEY OLSON,SUN REPORTER

The quarterback who led Navy's football team to a college bowl game victory last season has been charged with raping a female midshipman on campus, the latest in a line of allegations of sexual misconduct that have shaken the Naval Academy in recent years.

Lamar S. Owens Jr., 22, a senior midshipman, was charged yesterday with rape, indecent assault and conduct unbecoming an officer after an investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, academy officials said in charging documents.

A female midshipman was raped Jan. 29 in her room in Bancroft Hall, the sprawling dormitory in Annapolis that houses all 4,000 midshipmen, according to the charging documents.

The case reopens an old wound for the academy, which, along with the U.S. Military Academy, was criticized by a Pentagon task force last summer for failing to make adequate progress in correcting a culture that was considered hostile to women.

At least three midshipmen have resigned or been expelled as a result of rape investigations since Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt became superintendent in 2003, and Rempt recently brought charges against an oceanography professor who is accused of making sexually explicit comments to a female midshipman.

In Owens' case, the academy has brought charges against perhaps its best-known athlete, someone who personifies the revival of Navy football.

After the NCIS investigation, Rempt decided to formally charge Owens and conduct an Article 32 hearing, military law's equivalent of a grand jury proceeding.

"The superintendent has made constantly clear to all of our staff and midshipmen that the Navy does not tolerate sexual harassment or assault," said Cmdr. Rod Gibbons, an academy spokesman.

According to charging documents, Owens is charged with rape, conduct unbecoming an officer and indecent assault.

"Any time an alleged event like this occurs, it is a blow to the brigade and the entire academy family," Gibbons said.

Owens has been allowed to remain at Bancroft Hall.

Academy officials are withholding the name of the victim. A statement said that she has been assigned a personal advocate and that the academy is doing everything possible to protect her and offer support and counseling.

"The academy has also taken steps to prevent contact between the accused and victim to protect both parties," the statement said.

The academy's handling of the case was criticized yesterday by the Miles Foundation, a victim advocacy organization that tracks rape and other instances of violence against women in the military.

Anita Sanchez, spokeswoman for the Newtown, Conn.-based group, said the academy should not allow Owens to remain in Bancroft Hall.

"It poses some real concerns about the safety of the victim as well as her ability to deal with this trauma," Sanchez said.

Recent rape charges against a senior football player at the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut prompted officials to remove him from the school's barracks. He was separated from the rest of the students as soon as the first complaint against him was filed with administrators Dec. 4.

Gibbons declined to comment on the academy's decision not to remove Owens from Bancroft Hall or on how the academy was keeping him and the woman separate. He also said Owens would not be available for comment.

Several calls to a Savannah, Ga., home previously listed for Owens and his parents were not returned.

Owens was charged five weeks after preliminary hearings began in the military trial of Lt. Bryan Black, an academy oceanography professor, on sexual harassment charges. That trial has been delayed during appeals.

Black's attorney tried to have the case removed from Rempt's jurisdiction, saying the superintendent was engaging in a politically driven "witch hunt."

After Owens' Article 32 hearing - a pretrial investigation by a military officer to determine whether evidence is sufficient to prosecute the case - Rempt can impose an administrative punishment, order a general court-martial or take no action. No date has been set for the hearing.

The maximum penalty for rape in a general court-martial is life in prison, but most rape cases in the military don't reach that stage, victim advocacy groups say.

Whatever the outcome of the trial, Owens, a native of Savannah, could be expelled from the Navy for fraternization because the suspected incident took place in Bancroft Hall. The dorm is considered tantamount to a Navy ship, where consensual sexual relations are prohibited.

During the past 10 years, few of the alleged cases of sexual assault have reached a general court-martial. Instead, offenders have often been punished administratively, such as by being expelled or pressured to leave.

The Naval Academy athletic department declined to comment on the case, referring questions to the superintendent's office.

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