Former Coast Guard Academy cadet sues over disenrollment, claiming mishandling of sexual assault
(Tribune News Service) — A former Coast Guard Academy cadet, who was disenrolled eight days before graduation, has filed a lawsuit against service officials, claiming the Coast Guard didn't provide him with the proper support after his sexual assault and retaliated against him for seeking help.
According to a complaint filed Oct. 1 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, academy Superintendent Rear Adm. William Kelly informed first-class Cadet Joshua Roh on May 11 that Roh was being disenrolled for "a pattern of misconduct" and "continued concern regarding (Cadet Roh's) deficiencies in emotional regulation and professional interactions."
The Regulations of the Corps of Cadets states, "Cadets who exceed their maximum accumulation of demerits will normally be disenrolled." The maximum for a first-class cadet — a student in their fourth year — is 150 demerits, which Roh exceeded. This is compared to 15 demerits his first year and 17 his second, according to the complaint.
"Cadet Roh was not a habitual conduct offender, but was made into one in the wake of the sexual assault," the lawsuit says. "This is not correlation; it is causation."
Jeffrey E. McFadden, the attorney representing the now 22-year-old Roh, reached out to The Day about the lawsuit. While he acknowledged there was "misconduct on some level," the lawsuit calls the conduct charges against Roh "overblown, arbitrary, capricious, and targeted."
The complaint states that Roh was given 100 demerits stemming from an incident in which he consumed alcohol less than 12 hours before standing duty. He drank while attending a cadet social the night before but wasn't notified until after that he was scheduled to stand duty the next morning. The lawsuit says there were no issues with the watch itself and he wasn't intoxicated.
Roh also got 30 demerits after he "dressed down" a second-class female cadet, using profanity twice, when she allegedly damaged his skateboard while using it to move a trunk. He got eight demerits from a failed room inspection, in which the lawsuit said Roh and his roommate were treated differently.
What put Roh over the 150-demerit limit, the lawsuit says, was an incident this March in which Roh overslept, resulting in him missing a coronavirus test and forgetting to remove an earring he wasn't allowed to be wearing in uniform.
Because of these incidents, Roh was placed in three remediation programs for alcohol, devotion to duty, and respect, which McFadden said involved "a tremendous amount of writing."
Rear Adm. Joanna Nunan, deputy for personnel readiness at the Coast Guard, denied Roh's appeal of disenrollment on July 14.
The defendants in the lawsuit are Kelly, Nunan, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl L. Schultz, academy Commandant of Cadets Capt. Arthur L. Ray and academy Golf Company Officer Lt. Akaninyene Inyang.
The complaint states that Roh, who is from Nebraska, has been reduced to boatswain's mate third class and was dispatched to a base in Portsmouth, N.H., where he "will be required to serve in an enlisted status for the next four years, a clear liberty interest."
Prior to his disenrollment, Roh was selected to be a deck watch officer on the cutter Dauntless beginning in June.
In response to emailed questions, academy spokesperson Cmdr. Krystyn Pecora said the Coast Guard "does not comment on pending legal matters and therefore cannot specifically comment on this case." But she did provide more general information on how the academy responds to sexual assaults.
Cadet 'never once felt supported' after sexual assault
The lawsuit describes the alleged sexual assault of Roh by a classmate on April 13, 2019, in Roh's third-class year at the academy, after both men became highly intoxicated.
The complaint states that Roh was shocked and made clear "he had absolutely no interest in any kind of sexual activity," and soon after disclosed some of what happened to the third-class female cadet who was asleep in the room when the assault occurred.
Two other classmates took Roh to the academy's medical clinic, according to the lawsuit. Given Roh's level of intoxication, the clinicians had him taken to the hospital, where he was treated, monitored and released.
The complaint says Roh filed an unrestricted sexual assault prevention response report with the academy's sexual assault response coordinator.
Two Coast Guard Investigative Service agents interviewed Roh six days after the assault, but it took weeks before a military protective order was issued against the alleged perpetrator, Kieran Clancy, according to the lawsuit. Roh was forced to see Clancy repeatedly in the interim because they shared the same major and classes.
At a nonjudicial punishment hearing on Nov. 10, 2020, Superintendent Kelly found Clancy had committed assault consummated by battery, The Day reported last year. The Coast Guard said Clancy initially was charged with abusive sexual contact related to an April 2019 incident.
Clancy's case had been referred to court-martial, and Pecora clarified this week that the accused "negotiated to adjudicate his case through non-judicial punishment and, as part of that plea, agreed to admit to an assault consummated by a battery at the non-judicial punishment hearing and was subsequently discharged." Clancy received a general discharge from the Coast Guard.
Meanwhile, Roh felt he had no one to turn to and felt his company officer, Lt. Inyang, started to treat him differently, he said in a personal statement submitted with the appeal of his disenrollment. McFadden thinks Inyang "clearly had it in for him."
Inyang didn't respond to emails seeking comment.
"I never once felt supported by my command of shipmates and had to process through all of this alone," Roh wrote. He said he couldn't trust those in charge to advocate for him and help him process his trauma, resulting in insomnia, weight loss and difficulty concentrating.
"I found myself erupting in anger at the smallest slights," he wrote. "I was fighting a war and had no allies."
The complaint says the traumatic aftermath of the assault "lies at the core of whatever 'deficiencies in emotional regulations and professional interactions' Cadet Roh had allegedly exhibited in the wake of that disgraceful failure to help him."
The lawsuit asserts that Roh experienced "reverse gender bias" in the handling of his assault and that members of the chain of command had the attitude that "real men don't get sexually assaulted."
Pecora said in an email, "The Coast Guard provides recovery services to all members who are victim of sexual assault including providing requisite medical, legal, mental health and administrative support to each victim, regardless of their gender identity."
She said resources at the academy include two full-time special victims counsel, one full-time sexual assault response coordinator, one full-time Victim Advocate Program specialist, three chaplains and the Academy Clinic Center for Counseling and Development.
In the lawsuit, Roh seeks an order and judgment declaring he was discriminated against based on his gender and deprived of due process under the Fifth Amendment, and a reversal of his disenrollment, so that he can graduate and be commissioned as an officer.
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