Army's Top Sexual Assault Prosecutor Accused of Sexual Assault
The Army's top prosecutor in charge of sexual assault cases has been suspended from his position because he is under investigation for allegedly groping and assaulting a female lawyer on his staff.
The news came on the same day that the Senate voted down a controversial proposal that would have removed the military chain of command from referring sexual assault cases for prosecution to specially trained military prosecutors.
A defense official confirmed that Lt. Col. Joseph "Jay" Morse has been suspended from his post as the chief of the Army's Trial Counsel Assistance Program, which supervises a team of Army attorneys who prosecute sexual assault cases.
Morse was suspended because he is being investigated by the Army's Criminal Investigative Command for allegations that two years ago he groped and assaulted a female lawyer on his staff.
The military newspaper Stars and Stripes was first to report the Morse investigation and his suspension from his post.
A Defense official confirmed Stars and Stripes' account that Morse allegedly attempted to kiss and grope the female Army lawyer against her will while both were attending a sexual assault legal conference in Alexandria, Va. The alleged attack took place in 2011 before Morse took over the Trial Counsel Assistance Program.
Army spokesman Col. Dave Patterson said in a statement to ABC News, "We can confirm that this matter is currently under investigation and the individual in question has been suspended from duties pending the outcome of the investigation."
He added that he was precluded from providing any additional information because it is still an open investigation.
Morse is a noted military prosecutor who led the prosecution team in the court martial of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who killed 16 Afghan civilians in southern Afghanistan in 2012. Bales eventually pleaded guilty in the case.
Last May, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, who headed the Air Force's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, made headlines when he was charged by Virginia police for alleged assault and battery against a woman in the parking lot of a bar near the Pentagon.
Krusinski was later acquitted in civilian court of the charges filed against him. His case was among several high-profile cases that led Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to order the military services to conduct a review of personnel involved in assisting sexual assault victims.
Last week, the Army acknowledged that a review of 20,000 sexual assault coordinators, recruiters and drill instructors had led to 588 soldiers being dismissed from the positions because of prior instances of bad or criminal behavior. The three other military services conducted narrower reviews that resulted in a handfuls of individuals being disqualified from sexual assault coordinator positions.
Preliminary figures provided by the Pentagon on Thursday showed a 60 percent increase in the number of sexual assault reports filed last year. There were about 5,400 reports in 2013 compared to 3,774 in 2012. Eleven percent of the reports were for sexual assault incidents that occurred before a victim entered military service. That's a 300 percent increase from 2012, when that amount was approximately 4 percent of 3,374 reports.
Pentagon officials see the increased reporting as a positive step that might be attributable to increased awareness about reporting sexual assaults and better resources available to sexual assault victims.
However, the increased reporting may under-represent the number of sexual assaults that may be occurring in the military.
Last year, the Pentagon released a survey that estimated there could possibly have been 26,000 instances of "unwanted sexual contact" in 2012. That number was derived from a sampling of military service members who were asked if they had experienced some sort of "unwanted sexual contact." That term includes a range of unwanted behavior, from unwanted touching to rape.
Morse did not immediately return a phone call to his office and and an email seeking comment.