Three Air Force Academy cadets have been charged with unrelated sexual assaults against female cadets. The news comes just a week after a Pentagon report found an increase in the reporting of sexual attacks at the academy during the past academic year.
The cadets were being accused of sexual misconduct in three separate incidents that occurred over the past 15 months, according to a statement released by the academy on Thursday.
"The charges were preferred on the same day," said Air Force Academy spokesman Meade Warthen, but "the three separate incidents had nothing to do with each other. "
He added, "they just happened to be completed at the same time," and that's "the only thing they have in common with each other. They are not connected.
"Each case will be adjudicated independently and the accused in each case is presumed innocent until proven guilty," said Col. Tamra Rank, the academy's vice superintendent. "We take these allegations seriously. Sexual misconduct is a particularly egregious offense and we have a zero tolerance policy in the Air Force."
The arrests came almost a week after the release of the Defense Department's annual report on sexual assault at the military's service academies, which found cases rose sharply over the last academic year to 65 from 41.
The report found the largest increase in such incidents took place at the Air Force Academy, where there were 33 reports of sexual assault, up from 20 the previous academic year. The report defined sexual assault as any kind of sexual misconduct ranging from sexual harassment to rape.
Since 2003, there have been four court martials involving Academy cadets who were accused of sexual assault, Warthen said.
Cadet Robert Evenson is accused of the most serious offenses, including rape, unlawful sex acts, engaging in an unprofessional relationship and conduct unbecoming an officer. Charge sheets accuse Evenson of raping a female cadet in 2010 and of engaging in forced sex acts two other times that year. He is also accused of abusing his position as the cadet non-commissioned officer for honor cases by helping a female cadet "with her honor case in return for a dating relationship and sexual favors."
Cadet Stephan Claxton is accused of having struck a fellow cadet on the face with his fist and then unbuttoning and unzipping her pants during a November 2011 incident. He is also being charged for a March 2011 incident where he engaged in sexual contact with a female cadet "without legal justification or lawful authorization and without the permission" of the cadet.
Cadet Kyle Cressy is accused of aggravated sexual assault on a woman while she was "substantially incapacitated" during an incident in May 2011 .
The three cadets will now face Article 32 hearings, which are the military's version a civilian grand jury, where an investigating officer will hear evidence to determine if the cases should proceed to a court-martial.
As is customary with service members awaiting such hearings, they remain on active duty while they await the hearings. Two of the three cadets are continuing to attend classes at the school, Warthen said. The third cadet, Evenson, was supposed to have graduated last year, but his graduation has been delayed until his case is resolved. He remains at the academy working for the commandant of cadets.
The hearings are expected to take place in late January or early February.