Witnesses testify they were groped by ex-Air Force sex-assault chief
ARLINGTON, Va. – A 23-year-old woman testified Tuesday that the Air Force’s former chief of sexual assault prevention drunkenly groped her outside a Washington-area restaurant in May, then followed up by mocking her.
“I feel someone come up behind me – their chest is to my back, and they firmly grab my rear end as they’re walking by, and they ask me if I like it,” said the woman, who broke down in tears during her testimony in Arlington County Circuit Court.
The testimony came during the first day of the misdemeanor assault and battery trial of Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, 42, who was removed from his job running the Air Force’s SAPRO office after his arrest. The prosecution will continue calling witnesses Wednesday in a trial expected to run three days.
Krusinski was initially charged with sexual battery in the incident, but Virginia prosecutors in July revised the charge to regular assault and battery, saying the sexual crime requires additional proof of sexual intent. A grand jury indicted Krusinski in August.
Both charges are Class 1 misdemeanors and carry a penalty of up to 12 months in jail and a fine of $2,500.
Stars and Stripes is withholding the woman’s identity because she reported she was a victim of sexual assault.
Prosecution witnesses, including an Arlington County police officer, described a drunken Krusinski stumbling through an area of bars and restaurants in the early morning hours of May 5.
A server at a nearby restaurant, Vaughn Coleman – a transgender woman who calls herself Jordain – said Krusinski appeared to be a happy drunk. Coleman said Krusinski both propositioned and groped her before she brushed him off.
Coleman said Krusinski then continued down the street and grabbed the 23-year-old woman’s buttocks as he passed her on the sidewalk – contradicting earlier reporting based on a police report that said the alleged assault happened in a parking lot behind the restaurants.
The woman did not take well to the contact, Coleman said.
“I don’t blame her – she went crazy on him,” Coleman testified, saying Krusinski put his hands behind his head and made little effort to defend himself. “He was taking it like a guy.”
Although the woman had said she followed Krusinski and hit him perhaps three times with her fist, Coleman said the 23-year-old pursued Krusinski down the street and around a corner, bashing him an estimated 15 times with her cellphone. Coleman said Krusinski later appeared drenched in blood.
Witnesses said the next confrontation occurred when the woman and friends followed Krusinski into a parking lot behind the strip of restaurants. There, one of the woman's friends called police -- the raucous 911 tape was played in court -- and Arlington County police officer Geoffrey Gammell said that soon after, he spotted Krusinski staggering down a street. When stopped, Krusinski -- whom Gammell said smelled of alcohol -- kneeled with his hands behind his head.
Krusinski says he’s innocent of the charge, and his attorney, Barry Coburn, said the case only drew such intense attention because of the initial charge, coupled with the intense scrutiny the military is under as it deals with the issue of sexual assault in the ranks.
“The only reason this was newsworthy was because it was a sex offense,” Coburn said in a statement earlier this year.
In an opening statement, Coburn said Krusinski “had an extremely strong incentive not to commit an act that would cost him his career” and predicted inconsistencies would derail the prosecution's case.
One of those he focused on Tuesday was the differing accounts from prosecution witnesses of how the alleged assault occurred. Coleman said Krusinski reached back and grabbed the victim as they passed each other while facing opposite ways on the street. The woman, however, said Krusinski approached her from behind while they both faced the same way.
Advocates for sexual assault victims and some lawmakers have pointed to the Krusinski case, along with a series of other sex-related military crimes, as proof that the Defense Department isn’t adequately addressing the military’s sexual assault problem.
Among a few legislative fixes being proposed, a bipartisan group of senators is pushing for serious crimes, including sex assault, to be handled outside the chain of command to ensure impartiality. Although military leaders oppose the initiative and say it would harm discipline, the Pentagon has enacted other changes, including stripping commanders of the right to overturn a verdict in a criminal case.
The office Krusinski led has been reorganized, and Maj. Gen. Margaret Woodward now heads a much-expanded Air Force SAPRO program.