POINT MUGU — An investigation into sexual harassment allegations at a naval air squadron has ended with no charges filed against the accused male officers, but an assault charge filed against a woman who allegedly broke an investigator's foot during the probe, officials said Thursday.
Following two months of interviews, Navy criminal investigators and two teams of administrative officers found nothing to substantiate accusations by four women that they were harassed by fellow members of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 9, said Capt. Craig Weideman, the squadron's commanding officer.
"All of the allegations originated from one of these four individuals," Weideman said. "I have found no substantiating evidence that there was indecent assault or sexual harassment."
But Weideman said he has decided to pursue criminal assault charges against one of the accusers. The woman reportedly flew into a rage while being re-interviewed by criminal investigators and during the tussle allegedly fractured a bone in one agent's foot, authorities said.
Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the commanding officer has the authority to determine if criminal charges are filed.
"She has done some things wrong, physical assault," Weideman said. "The Navy cannot send a message of letting people walk away from things like that. The charges have been referred to a legal court-martial."
The woman's Navy-appointed defense counsel, Lt. Adam Paul Stoffa, declined to comment on specific charges, but said: "The manner in which these young ladies have been treated is very interesting."
The sexual harassment allegations first surfaced at Point Mugu in early April when several women complained to a career counselor of improper sexual comments and grabbing by their senior enlisted officers in the squadron known as VX-9. None of those involved were commissioned officers.
The counselor referred the matter to Navy lawyers, who called in criminal investigators.
Marilyn G. Hourican, agent-in-charge of the local office of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, said the Navy took the matter very seriously--as it has for all sexual harassment allegations since the Navy was shaken by the cover-up of the groping incidents at the infamous 1991 Tailhook Assn. convention of Naval aviators.
Investigators interviewed dozens of people at VX-9, Hourican said, yet failed to turn up any witnesses to corroborate allegations by the women.
"Beyond the initial allegations," Hourican said, "there was little to support what the victims said. But to be fair, usually these things don't occur when witnesses are around."
As for the assault by one woman on an investigator, Hourican said that such altercations sometimes come with the job. The injury was not grievous, she said, and the female agent who sustained the broken bone had to wear a cast for only about a week.
"Even the agent couldn't say that it was a deliberate act," Hourican said. "It occurred in the process of getting her under control."
The four male officers and their four accusers were temporarily assigned to other duties during the investigation.
Since then, one of the men decided to retire from the Navy, one has taken another job at Whidbey Island Navy Base in Washington state, and two have returned to the Point Mugu detachment of VX-9.
As for the women, one was reassigned to another Navy job in San Diego and two transferred to VX-9's headquarters at the China Lake Navy base in the upper Mojave Desert.
The fourth woman is temporarily assigned to other duties at Point Mugu while awaiting the outcome of a trial on charges of assaulting a federal agent.
The woman's Navy enlistment was supposed to have ended on April 19, but her departure was postponed because of the investigation. Now, she faces additional charges of an unauthorized absence from April 18 to 26.
In an interview by The Times in mid-April, the woman expressed frustration over what she viewed as retaliation from her superior officers and the refusal by investigators to believe her.
Their usual conclusion, she said, was: "I'm crazy, and I was having a tough time adjusting to Navy life."
If convicted in a court-martial, the woman faces up to six months incarceration, forfeiture of two-thirds of her pay for six months, a demotion in rank and a bad-conduct discharge.
Her attorney and a Navy-appointed prosecutor are now trying to negotiate a pretrial agreement, Weideman said.
"It is in everybody's best interest to come to closure on this thing expeditiously," he said.
Weideman said he is contemplating taking administrative action against two of the four men targeted by the investigation. The letters of reprimand, he said, would not focus on any alleged harassment, but rather on a failure to inform superior officers of the complaints and initial investigation.
"Some of the charges were known by the accused, and they didn't say anything to their supervisors," Weideman said. "As a result, all of this stuff got back to the Bureau of Naval Personnel. We were getting calls from Washington before we knew there was a problem."