WASHINGTON — The Army’s former lead special victims prosecutor was relieved of his duties last month after an investigation into a claim by a fellow Army sexual assault prosecutor that he had groped her during Washington-area legal conference on sexual crimes.
Lt. Col. Jay Morse has received a general letter of reprimand in connection with the case, normally a career-ending administrative action, but is not being criminally charged, an Army official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said.
Morse, the former head of the Army’s Trial Counsel Assistance Program who supervised nearly two dozen other prosecutors who focused on sexual crimes, has maintained he is innocent of the allegations but has told the Army he will soon retire.
The Washington Post was first to report the Morse reprimand. Stars and Stripes reported the allegations in March after Morse was suspended after a fellow prosecutor said he’d tried to kiss her and grab her buttocks against her will.
The sexual assault was alleged to have taken place on March 3, 2011, in a hotel room.
An Army spokeswoman at the Pentagon said an investigation by Army Criminal Investigation Command had recently ended, but would not provide details of the findings.
“Based on the substantiated findings, the commanding general of the Military District of Washington took appropriate disciplinary action,” Lt. Col. Alayne Conway wrote in an emailed statement. “In addition, Lt. Col. Morse was suspended from his duties as the chief, Trial Counsel Assistance Program, and was subsequently relieved. Other appropriate administrative actions are ongoing.”
Morse had denied any nonconsensual contact with the woman and in March underwent a polygraph examination. In results filed in a military court, the examiner concluded there was no indication Morse was lying when he answered “no” to questions of whether he had touched or tried to kiss the woman over her objections.
Should a board determine Morse did not serve honorably at the lieutenant colonel rank, he could be forced to retire at a lower pay grade that could cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of his life.
Morse is currently assigned to the Army Judge Advocate General’s office at the Pentagon.
In April the Army took what several legal experts say was a perhaps the unprecedented step of ordering Morse to stop his military defense attorney from conducting an investigation into the case. The order followed an objection by the alleged victim, a captain, over questioning of witnesses.
Morse appealed and the restriction was lifted, but only because the Criminal Investigation Command had finished its own investigation that is not on behalf of the government or the suspects, officials said.
Legal experts characterized the unusual order as a reflection of the chaotic state surrounding the military’s handling of sexual assault, reports of which rose 50 percent last year from 2012. The Pentagon has made unilateral changes to some policies governing the response to sexual assault and Congress has legislated others. Among them are measures that criminalize retaliation for reporting sexual assaults and requirements that only senior officers can decide not to proceed with an investigation.
But some legislators and victim’s advocates say the changes don’t go far enough. They have pushed—unsuccessfully so far—to strip top commanders of authority over criminal prosecutions involving their subordinates.
In a similar case, the former chief of the Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, was acquitted last November in civilian court of assault and battery against a woman who said he had grabbed her buttocks outside a Washington-area bar.