Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Delays Doom Prosecution of Sex Assault Case : Law enforcement: Navy officials admit that investigation of a 1989 incident was not handled properly. Because of the time lapse, civilian authorities will not prosecute either.

March 08, 1992|ROXANA KOPETMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LONG BEACH — For more than two years, Christine Jongejan waited for the Long Beach Naval Station to prosecute a Navy security officer she said grabbed her out of a chair, forced her on top of a table and simulated sex.

To Jongejan, a 29-year-old civilian security officer, the incident during a training session on the base was a clear case of sexual assault. When she protested, the fellow officer assaulted her again during the same session, she said.

"I'm sitting there in total shock and disbelief that this happened to me. I turned around and said, 'I can't believe you just did that to me.' And he said, 'Oh, you like that, baby. I'll give you more of the same,' " Jongejan said.

She said he grabbed her ankles, forced her legs around his neck and fondled her. She broke away by kicking him in the chest, she said.

Since the incident in the fall of 1989, Jongejan said she has been told by various supervisors that they planned to prosecute Petty Officer Earnest L. Simon, 44. But nothing has ever happened. The incident was not reported to the station's commanding officer and records of the investigation disappeared. Simon was counseled but never was disciplined, Navy officials said.

Simon declined to be interviewed for this story. He has given the Navy conflicting statements about the incident, according to Navy officials and Long Beach police. At first, he agreed with Jongejan's account of what happened and explained that it was done in jest, Navy officials said. Later, however, he denied touching anything except her ankles, said Long Beach police Detective Jana Blair.

Both Jongejan and Simon worked for the Long Beach Naval Station's Security Department, whose 166 military and civilian officers are charged with protecting the base, along with Navy housing projects in Long Beach and surrounding communities.

Recently, Navy officials acknowledged that the incident was not handled appropriately. Instead of being sent up the chain of command, a report of the incident was kept within the department, and high-ranking Navy officials did not learn of it until April, 1991. Later, because of the lapse in time and a technicality involving Simon's re-enlistment, officials dropped the case.

When Jongejan recently learned that the Navy would not pursue the case, she filed a complaint with the Long Beach Police Department. But by then, it was too late.

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office decided last month it could not file charges because the one-year statute of limitations for misdemeanor sexual battery cases had expired. The incident was considered a misdemeanor because Jongejan was wearing clothes and there was no skin-to-skin contact, said James Cosper, assistant head deputy district attorney in Long Beach.

Blair, who is assigned to the Long Beach police sex crimes detail, said her department would have pursued the case if the complaint had been filed in time. "I just wish she would have come to us sooner. We could have helped her," Blair said. "She has a reason to be angry."

Jongejan's case is not an isolated incident in the U.S. military, where 64% of the women reported being sexually harassed, according to a 1990 Defense Department report. In another recently published survey of women Navy officers, a majority of those interviewed said they had been subjected to off-color jokes, sexual remarks and unsolicited physical contact.

The Navy, hoping to shake a reputation for tolerating sexual harassment, announced that as of March 1 violators of certain anti-harassment rules automatically will be kicked out of the service. The new policy includes physical contact of a sexual nature, which, if charged as a violation, could result in punitive discharge.

In Jongejan's case, supervisors in the Security Department did not follow correct procedures, said Capt. Patricia Tracey, the Long Beach Naval Station's commanding officer.

"That is a serious offense. It is an offense that would have been eligible to go to a court-martial," Tracey said. Military personnel charged with criminal wrongdoing may be subject to court-martial in a military court.

Although supervisors in the Navy's Security Department investigated the alleged assault, "I found no evidence that anybody outside the department had ever been informed that the incident occurred," Tracey said.

Supervisors should have informed the station's commanding officer, who then would have evaluated the complaint and had the option to file charges, conduct a hearing and determine discipline.

But the system went awry, officials said.

On the day of the incident, officers from Jongejan's shift were attending their weekly training session. Simon was sitting in the back of the room "and he was giving snappy answers, negative answers to what the instructor was teaching," Jongejan said. "I turned around and I said, 'Gosh, Simon, you are in a bad mood.' He looked at me and said, 'You want to see what kind of mood I'm in? I'll show you."'

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|