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Navy officer testifies, denies intending to rape junior officer

Cmdr. John Michael Neuhart II entered his plea in a San Diego court on Monday to attempted sexual assault charges and a burglary charge.

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By PAULINE REPARD | The San Diego Union-Tribune | Published: December 6, 2017

SAN DIEGO (Tribune News Service) — A Navy commander accused of trying to rape a subordinate officer at her San Diego home last year testified Wednesday that she told him if she said “no” to his advances, she meant “keep going.”

But when she yelled “stop!” and “get off!,” Cmdr. John Michael Neuhart II said, he understood her literal meaning.

“So there was no ‘opposite-world’ meaning to those words?” Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Tag asked him.

Neuhart, 40, is on trial in San Diego Superior Court on three counts involving assault with intent to commit rape, as well as burglary for allegedly forcing his way into the woman’s home, and resisting arrest afterward. He could spend life in prison if convicted of the most serious charge.

On the witness stand, Neuhart said, “I believed it was all consensual between us. It made sense.”

Tag dismissed his statement, calling it “bizarre” that he and the highly intoxicated victim would agree beforehand that if she wanted him to stop their aggressive foreplay, he should ignore her words and continue.

Under questioning from his attorney, Brian White, Neuhart testified that “I did not try to rape (the alleged victim). I had no intention of raping (her).”
Prosecutors say that Neuhart, who at the time commanded a helicopter squadron in Guam, came to San Diego last year for a conference. On Sept. 11, he met for drinks with members of the squadron who were in town for training, and with the alleged victim, a former squadron member who had transferred to Coronado as a helicopter flight instructor.

Her full name was not used in court.

Neuhart has been relieved of his command while his trial is underway. He is assigned to headquarters section of San Diego-based Navy Region Southwest.

Security video from the downtown Manchester Grand Hyatt hotel, where they were drinking, was shown in court. The woman can be seen staggering, barely standing up at some points, with Neuhart’s arm around her as they walk down a hall and use an elevator.

She testified earlier in the trial that she became very drunk and ended up taking a ride-share or cab with Neuhart to her Valencia Park home. She said he pulled off her pants and nearly raped her as she repeatedly screamed at him to stop and leave.

Neuhart testified Tuesday and Wednesday that they discussed having sex at her house before they left the hotel. He said he “waffled” about it because he is married, with five children, and because he was her superior officer — a violation of military fraternization rules.

Tag said the hotel video showed the woman repeatedly pushing Neuhart away, including keeping her arms up between her body and his as they kissed. Neuhart testified that he recalled “her resting her arms on his chest” in a tender way.

He also said he asked her if she wanted a “safe word,” which he understood would mean that she was feeling safe as their flirting led to sex. Neuhart said she told him “no,” which he took as the safe word she had chosen. He said that in the context of their time together, “no” meant “yes.”

After letting Neuhart into her house, where they kissed and hugged, she ordered him out. He went around to the back door and set up his cellphone to record on video his repeated efforts to get inside again. Neuhart testified that he did so to have proof that, if they had sex, it was consensual.

When the video was shown to jurors, Neuhart is shown loudly knocking on the door and tugging on the handles while she yelled at him to stop and go away. But, she eventually let him in and could be heard crying and screaming for him to stop.

A neighbor who heard her called 911. As San Diego police arrived, Neuhart ran out the back and into a canyon, with his still-recording cellphone in his pocket. He fell — fracturing his leg. Officer caught him and arrested him.

©2017 The San Diego Union-Tribune
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