A New Orleans-based Coast Guard officer has been cleared of charges he sexually assaulted two women in the service.
A military judge, after a court-martial trial ending Wednesday, acquitted Petty Officer 2nd Class Gregory E. Cooper of several counts, including aggravated sexual assault, adultery, indecent conduct and dereliction of duty. However, the judge, Capt. Christine Cutter, found Cooper guilty of “violating a lawful order” by having sex with a fellow crew member of the Grand Isle-based cutter Sturgeon.
Cooper, 28, who is now assigned to the Coast Guard’s 8th District staff in New Orleans, faced several years in prison if convicted of the sexual assault charges. He was sentenced to a one-grade pay reduction, a penalty Cooper’s defense team said will amount to at least a couple of hundred dollars a month.
Cooper’s defense attorney, retired Navy Cmdr. John B. Wells, of Slidell, released a statement Thursday blaming his client’s prosecution on what he described as a “witch-hunt atmosphere” that he said has permeated the armed forces in the wake of highly publicized calls to reform the military’s handling of sexual assault.
Wells, who is executive director of the Military-Veterans Advocacy organization, blasted the Coast Guard Investigative Service for failing to “conduct even a basic investigation” in Cooper’s case, pointing to a host of “credibility issues with the complaining witnesses.” He denounced the case as “a wanton example of political correctness gone amok.”
“The charges just did not make sense,” said Wells, who administered a polygraph examination that he said Cooper passed. “In one case, the outcry came after Petty Officer Cooper broke up with the complainant after living with her for six months. The other allegation was made after the newly married woman found out that a one-time liaison had come to light.”
Documents released by the Coast Guard this week under the Freedom of Information Act show Cooper had been accused of trying to persuade one of the women to refuse an alcohol abuse screening in 2013 so she “could be immediately discharged from the U.S. Coast Guard to thus further their romantic relationship.” Another count charged Cooper with fondling and having sex in 2011 in Washington state with a woman, a yeoman who allegedly had been “substantially incapable of appraising the nature of the sexual act.”
Lt. John FitzGerald, a Coast Guard spokesman, said Cooper’s case was referred to a general court-martial in April after a prior hearing found enough evidence to move forward with the case. He said Cooper had been assigned to the Sturgeon in Grand Isle and the Aids to Navigation Team Puget Sound in Seattle when the alleged misconduct occurred.
In response to Wells’ remarks, FitzGerald said in a statement that sexual assault is an affront to the Coast Guard’s core values and that the service remains “committed to driving sexual assault and the behaviors that enable it from our ranks.”
Members of the military accused of sexual misconduct are afforded due process under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, he added. “We believe the military justice system is fair to all parties involved,” he said, “and this case is no different.”
Wells, however, claimed that due process has been diminished by a “faux outrage” surrounding military sexual assault allegations that has cowed military commanders into pursuing every sexual assault case, no matter how questionable.
“There is a place for women in the military, and they can play an important role,” Wells said. “But, like everyone else, they must be held accountable for their actions. In this case, no action will be taken against the two women who brought the charges.”
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