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Air Force Cadet Is Charged With Rape

May 14, 2003|Esther Schrader | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — An Air Force Academy cadet was charged Tuesday with raping and sodomizing a female cadet in a dorm room last year. He is the second student to be charged in the widening sexual assault scandal at the Colorado Springs, Colo., school.

Cadet Douglas Meester, a sophomore, also was charged with indecent assault and providing alcohol to two cadets in the Oct. 18 incident, according to an academy press release.

Last week, junior Jason Nicklas Lewis was charged with two counts of sexual harassment in connection with a November incident in which he allegedly forced two women to fondle him.

An Article 32 hearing, the military equivalent of a pretrial hearing, is set for today to determine if there is sufficient evidence for Meester to face a court-martial. The hearing for Lewis was held last week. A decision on whether he will face court-martial is likely Friday.

The academy, the Air Force's premier officer training school, has been shaken by charges of widespread sexual assault and abuse.

To date, an ongoing Air Force investigation has turned up 56 cases of alleged rape and sexual assault at the academy since 1993. Dozens of female cadets say they were reprimanded or ostracized when they reported being raped.

Senior Air Force officials have said they believe many more cases have gone unreported.

After an outcry by members of Congress, the school's top officers were reassigned and three investigations were launched by the Air Force and Pentagon. A civilian panel established by Congress will begin meeting later this month.

In the case involving Meester, a freshman from Pennsylvania reported the alleged attack immediately and underwent a medical examination, said her lawyer, Colorado Springs attorney Steve Werner. He said she later was disciplined for fraternizing with older cadets and for drinking.

Werner had said he believed two cadets would be charged with rape in the incident, along with possibly another who allegedly knew about it but did not report it. Academy spokesman Lt. Col. Perry Nouis said he did not know why only Meester was charged.

"I can conclude they're serious about these two cases," said James Williams, a lawyer who works with Werner. "But it's really too early to tell how this case is going to play out."

Advocates for sexual assault victims who have followed the scandal and are in contact with dozens of female cadets expressed satisfaction that the charges have been filed. But they complained that few cadets have been charged so far and voiced skepticism that the academy will root out the problems.

"While this is clearly a positive move, given the circumstances -- I know this cadet, I've met her and her family personally and she has a very high level of integrity -- I am also disappointed," said Dorothy Mackey, founder of Survivors Take Action Against Abuse by Military Personnel of Dayton, Ohio.

Problems related to sexual abuse continue to emerge at the academy, which said this month it was investigating whether a cadet had organized group sex sessions via the Internet.

The senior cadet is suspected of organizing a Web site that promoted group sex, sending e-mails to hundreds of people, and organizing and participating in group sex sessions.

Brig. Gen. Johnny Weida, the commandant in charge of cadets, declined to name the cadet or detail possible charges. It was unclear whether other cadets were involved.

Academy officials plan an overhaul of operating practices there. They said they would cluster female cadets' rooms and establish round-the-clock security. They also will offer amnesty to cadets who raise sexual assault allegations and expel cadets for underage drinking.

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