Mids testify about drinking

Rape case sheds light on students' alcohol consumption


An article in Sunday's Maryland section incorrectly stated whom Annapolis police send in to city bars for underage drinking stings. The police use underage cadets.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Whatever the outcome of the rape case against Navy's former star, it has already focused attention on drinking by midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy, a problem administrators have struggled to stamp out in the wake of several tragedies in recent years in which alcohol was involved.

Lamar S. Owens Jr. and the woman he is accused of raping Jan. 29 were drunk that night, according to witness testimony, and several 20-year-old witnesses testified that they commonly use their own IDs to get into Annapolis bars, often drinking to the point of inebriation. The woman, a junior, is 20.

Drinking has been involved in many of the rape cases at the school in recent years, as well as in the deaths of two midshipmen who fell from Bancroft Hall in separate incidents over the past four years. In 2003, two midshipmen were expelled from the academy after having sex with several women who said they were too drunk to say no.

Last week - when details of the excessive drinking on the night Owens is alleged to have raped a fellow midshipman were revealed at a pre-trial hearing in Washington - was also alcohol awareness week at the academy.

The alleged victim and a friend of hers testified at the hearing that they used their regular identification cards to get booze at Annapolis-area restaurants and bars. On the night of the incident, the woman and her friend got into Acme Bar & Grill that way and were each served 10 drinks in less than two hours, according to their testimonies.

The friend of the woman said they had been to Acme together about a dozen times and that the bar is frequented by midshipmen who drink underage.

"They don't really check," the accuser's friend said, noting that she has always shown her driver's license at the door, which plainly stated that she was under 21. "They never really cared."

The Sun does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault.

Roy Dunshee, owner of Acme Bar & Grill, said Friday that he doubted the girls used their own IDs and that two bartenders working that night are both professionals who "find the claim of consumption very dubious." The bar has not been cited as a result of a police sting in nearly a decade, he said, a statement liquor board officials confirmed. Like other bars in the city, they work with authorities, he said.

"We are, of course, appalled by the whole issue," Dunshee said. "We have lines; we are a very popular place. We don't need underage people."

The academy's superintendent, Vice Adm. Rodney P. Rempt, has said alcohol use is one of his primary worries at the academy, and he took the unusual move of adding an on-campus bar for students 21 and older. Allowing them to drink on campus helps control how much they drink and keeps them from driving or embarrassing themselves in downtown Annapolis, he said.

Many colleges have tried to crack down on students' drinking, especially underage drinking, said Catherine C. Bath, executive director of the national advocacy organization Security on Campus Inc.

Policing helps a little, notably with students who are less invested in partying and consider the consequences long enough to fear getting kicked out of school, she said. Education also helps a little, she said. But as for a reliable way to reach a large number of students, "nobody has figured that out yet," Bath said.

At the academy, the school has many seminars dealing with alcohol use and assault, said Capt. Bruce Grooms, the commandant of midshipmen - a position similar to the dean of students - at a hearing of a civilian oversight board on Monday. In those seminars, they often discuss rape and binge drinking.

"In the area of sexual assault and awareness, we talk about the date rape drugs," Grooms told the board of visitors Monday, which includes members of Congress, educators and retired military officials. "We talk about consent, decision analysis, how does alcohol affect your brain when you're involved in man and woman relationships. What is sexual coercion?

"With regard to alcohol and drug training, we cover Navy rules and Naval Academy rules and policies. We talk about binge drinking. ... It's a pretty comprehensive list."

J.T. Kadz, the school's brigade commander, the highest-ranking midshipman, told the board Monday about a push among student leaders to combat the problem by focusing on enforcement, education and entertainment.

Last month, the brigade held a "dry weekend" during which more than 800 midshipmen attended a gymnastics meet as part of the activities, and many also attended a Valentine's Day dance, he said.

"We've proposed to sponsor more alternative activities to drinking on the weekends because we think it's important to put out the message that it's OK not to consume alcohol," he said.

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