WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The officer in charge of a program to curb sexual assault in the U.S. Air Force was arrested over the weekend for allegedly grabbing a woman by the breasts and buttocks in a parking lot not far from the Pentagon, officials said on Monday.
Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Krusinski, 41, was arrested on Sunday and charged with sexual battery after the alleged incident in the Crystal City area of suburban Arlington, Virginia, officials said.
Krusinski, the head of the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office, was removed from his job pending an investigation on Monday.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel later spoke to Air Force Secretary Michael Donley about the incident, expressing “outrage and disgust over the troubling allegations” and emphasizing “that this matter will be dealt with swiftly and decisively,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said.
“Sexual assault has no place in the United States military,” Little said. “The American people, including our service members, should expect a culture of absolutely no tolerance for this deplorable behavior.”
An Arlington County Police spokesman said Krusinski, who was under the influence of alcohol, grabbed the woman by the breasts and buttocks in a parking lot. She fended him off, and when he tried to grab her again, she called the police, who arrived shortly thereafter and detained him, the spokesman said.
Krusinski posted a $5,000 bond and was released from the Arlington County Detention Facility, said the spokesman, who confirmed Krusinski’s name and arrest but did not have his rank or title with the Air Force.
The Air Force confirmed Krusinski was a lieutenant colonel in charge of the office responsible for overseeing the service’s sexual assault policy and developing prevention and response programs.
Independent groups pushing the Pentagon to deal effectively with sexual assault expressed shock over the incident.
“If these allegations are true, this is one more example on a long list of how fundamentally broken the military justice system and culture are,” said Nancy Parrish, president of the Protect Our Defenders advocacy group.
“The idea that the head of the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office could be arrested for sexual assault indicates the depth of the problem,” she added. “It’s outrageous.”
News of the arrest came as the Pentagon is preparing to release its annual report on the problem of sexual assault in the military.
A total of 3,192 cases were reported in the fiscal year that ended September 30, 2011, a 1 percent increase from the previous fiscal year, according to last year’s report.
Pentagon officials have said the actual number of sexual assaults, including those that go unreported, is much higher, possibly as many as 19,000 a year.
The Air Force has faced a series of embarrassing sexual assault scandals over the past year. An investigation at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, that began in 2011 has so far turned up 59 cases of sexual assault of military recruits by drill instructors.
General Mark Welsh, the top Air Force officer, called the scope of the case “stunning” during a congressional hearing earlier this year.
In another case, the top general in charge of an Air Force court martial at Aviano Air Base in Italy overturned the sexual assault conviction of a lieutenant colonel, threw out his one-year prison sentence and reinstated him to duty.
That case has prompted Hagel to recommend that Congress alter the military justice system to limit the ability of a military commander to throw out court-martial verdicts.
Little said in a statement that Hagel has been directing Pentagon leadership to increase their focus on sexual assault prevention. He said Hagel would soon announce the next step in the department’s effort to combat the crime.
(This story has been refiled to fix a typo in the first paragraph)
Reporting By David Alexander; Editing by Paul Simao and Philip Barbara