Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called Air Force Secretary Michael Donley Monday to express his “outrage and disgust” after the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response branch chief was arrested and charged early Sunday morning with sexual battery.
“Secretary Hagel expressed outrage and disgust over the troubling allegation and emphasized that this matter will be dealt with swiftly and decisively,” said George Little, the Pentagon’s top spokesman, in a statement.
Arlington County police officers arrested Air Force Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, 41, in the early morning hours of Sunday morning in a Northern Virginia parking lot near Crystal City Gentleman’s Club and Restaurant -- a strip club one mile from the Pentagon. He was accused of fondling a woman near the strip club before the female victim fought him off, according to the police report.
"A drunken male subject approached a female victim in a parking lot and grabbed her breasts and buttocks," Arlington police officers wrote in the report. "The victim fought the suspect off as he attempted to touch her again and alerted police."
Krusinski was released on $5,000 bail. He is shown with scratches to his face in the mug shot taken shortly after his arrest. Arlington police officials would not say if those scratches were caused in the alleged altercation with the victim.
Air Force leaders chose Krusinski to lead the program that works to protect airmen from the type of attack he is charged with committing. The Air Force immediately removed Krusinski from his position at the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program, according to Maj. Eric Badger, an Air Force spokesman. He had served in the position for about two months.
Krusinki’s arrest comes at a time when Air Force officials are under intense scrutiny as the service has accrued multiple sexual assault scandals in the past two years.
This is the most recent since Air Force leaders have had to explain why an Air Force three-star general overturned a guilty verdict for an Air Force pilot who was convicted by a jury of sexual assaulting a woman in his home in Italy.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig Franklin dismissed the sexual assault charges against Lt. Col. James Wilkerson less than a year after the service charged and convicted multiple basic military training instructors at Lackland Air Force Base with sexually assaulting more than 50 recruits.
Since taking over as the defense secretary, Hagel has listed combating sexual assault as one of his top priorities. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III has similarly made the same commitment, however, sexual assault scandals continue under his leadership.
“Secretary Hagel has been directing the Department's leaders to elevate their focus on sexual assault prevention and response, and he will soon announce next steps in our ongoing efforts to combat this vile crime,” Little said in the statement.
Congress has taken notice of the Air Force’s failure to protect airmen from sexual assaults. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., has blocked the nomination of Air Force Lt. Gen. Susan Helms to become the vice commander of Air Force Space Command because of the senator’s concerns about the decision by Helms to overturn a sexual assault conviction.
In 2012, Helms reversed a jury’s verdict to convict Air Force Capt. Matthew Herrera for sexually assaulting Tech. Sgt. Jennifer J. Robinson. The three-star said she found the captain’s testimony more credible than the victim’s, according to a memo written by Helms for her personal files and obtained by the Washington Post.
Helms and Franklin are not the only Air Force three-star generals who have recently reduced the penalty for an Air Force leader convicted of sexual assault in the past two years. In 2011, Air Force Lt. Gen. Robert Allardice reduced the jail sentence of a command master sergeant by 16 months and reversed his dishonorable discharge. Airman William Gurney, the former command chief of Air Force Materiel Command, had been convicted of 15 sexual misconduct charges.
McCaskill has worked with other lawmakers to include Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., the chairwoman of the Senate Armed Services personnel subcommittee, to remove the convening authority of commanders to overturn sexual assault convictions. Hagel has submitted his recommendation to only leave commanders the power to overturn convictions for minor crimes.
“Sexual assault has no place in the United States military,” Little said in a statement on behalf of Hagel. “The American people, including our service members, should expect a culture of absolutely no tolerance for this deplorable behavior that violates not only the law, but basic principles of respect, honor, and dignity in our society and its military. Secretary Hagel is firmly committed to upholding the highest standards of behavior in America's armed forces and will take action to see this through.”