ARLINGTON, Va. — The Air Force sexual assault prevention administrator accused of groping a woman in a public parking lot won’t be charged with sexual battery after all, but still faces potential jail time over the incident.
Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, whose arrest in May became a rallying point for critics of how the military handles sexual assault cases, now faces assault and battery charges. He was accused of approaching a woman in a parking lot and grabbing her breasts and buttocks, according to the crime report.
The charges carry essentially the same penalties as the previous ones — from steep fines to a year in prison — but don’t require the same proof of lewd behavior or intent.
Krusinski, 41, appeared Thursday in Arlington County Court for the legal moves. He ignored the 20-plus media members gathered for the event and did not speak during his minute-long appearance before the court.
Prosecutors said only that the new charges were more appropriate for the crime. Defense attorney Barry Coburn, while still insisting that Krusinski is innocent, agreed with the move.
“Charging decisions such as this one must be based on the facts and the law … not on politics or the desire to have a ‘teachable moment’ concerning issues such as sexual abuse in the military,” he said in a statement.
Coburn said that the salacious charges against Krusinski and his role as head of the service’s sexual assault prevention and response efforts unfairly put him on the front page of newspapers across the country.
“The only reason this was newsworthy was because it was a sex offense,” he said.
For the last two months, lawmakers have pointed to Krusinski’s arrest and a series of other sex-related military crimes as proof that the Defense Department cannot effectively prosecute sexual assaults or tend to victims needs.
A bipartisan coalition of senators is pushing for such crimes to be handled outside the chain of command to ensure impartiality. Military officials oppose that idea, but have acknowledged that lesser changes mandated by Congress are likely in coming months.
Outside the courtroom, as Coburn spoke about how the trial is no longer about sexual assault accusations, Air Force Reserve Col. Valerie Knobloch spoke to reporters about her own sexual harassment in the military and the need for better response by the military on the issue. She said she did not speak on behalf of any group, but was drawn to the trial by the continuing problems.
“Military men and women are being assaulted,” she said. “Victims need to be able to come forward and feel safe.”
Krusinski was immediately removed from his post following the arrest, and in a Thursday statement, Air Force officials said they won’t revisit that decision until the civilian trial is complete.
That likely won’t take place for several months. Meanwhile, lawmakers are expected to take up the issue of military sexual assault at another hearing Friday morning.