Despite social workers placing his name on the state child abuse registry, the Navy initially cleared the officer; now NCIS has reopened the case.
After allegations a Navy officer sexually molested two of his children, social workers in Virginia Beach, Va., placed his name on the State Child Abuse and Neglect Registry and forbade him from going within two miles of the home, school or workplace of any of his four children until they turned 18.
But when the Navy conducted its own investigation regarding the sexual abuse, it cleared the officer of all charges, and has since promoted him to lieutenant, raising questions yet again about the military’s ability to prosecute sexual predators within their own ranks.
Since the social workers’ investigation, the unnamed Navy lieutenant has since divorced his wife, reportedly leaving her destitute and barely able to feed her children, despite his $96,000-a-year salary. The family’s home in Virginia Beach has also since been foreclosed on, forcing the lieutenant’s ex-wife and four children to move five times in the past four years, and end up in a cockroach-infested motel room at the Oceanfront, where they live among the homeless and drug addicts.
To make matter’s worse, the lieutenant’s ex-wife was declared to be in contempt of court by the judge in the divorce case, after her husband’s lawyer told the judge she had “inappropriately contacted the Navy,” which jeopardized his career. For her actions she has to either spend 10 days in jail or pay a $5,000 fine.
Upon learning about this case, many child protection agencies have expressed their concern throughout the past four years, and on Friday, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service announced they would re-open the case and investigate the accusations.
NCIS spokesman Ed Buice told the Virginian-Pilot that the group was attempting to determine why an investigation had not been conducted once the allegations were initially made against the lieutenant, especially since the Virginia Beach Department of Human Services’ report was so comprehensive.
According to the report, the accusations of abuse first surfaced in 2009, when the children’s parents, who were separated, but not divorced, had joint custody. The lieutenant’s 10-year-old son told his mom that while he was staying with his father he was forced to watch his father and his girlfriend have sex.
The 10-year-old boy reportedly was tied up by his father, his mouth covered with duct tape and forced to watch his father have sex. The boy also reported that multiple times he would wake up at night to find his father touching his genitals through his clothing, and was also physically abused by his father.
When the 13-year-old sister heard her brother tell his mom about their dad’s behavior, she told her mom he was telling the truth because, according to her, “Daddy hurt me, also.”
According to the Virginian-Pilot, the lieutenant’s 13-year-old daughter told a social worker that her father would take her into a bedroom, lock the door, pin her down by her wrists and rape her. According to the girl, the rape followed two years of her father touching her inappropriately.
“He kept saying that if I told anyone, he would hurt me,” the daughter said in a written account. “I screamed but no one could hear me … I was too scared to tell anyone.”
About two years after being raped by her father, the young girl spoke with a psychologist, who said the girl had high levels of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as anxiety, insomnia, and flashbacks. The girl also developed an ulcer and had suicidal thoughts.
“This thing has ruined me forever,” she told a social worker, according to the account. “I take three or four showers a day to feel clean.”
Prosecution difficult without hard evidence
As this story has resurfaced, there is not only renewed scrutiny for the level of abuse that occurs within the military, but abuse that occurs within a military family. According to a military website, the Defense Department is working to end domestic abuse and has a Family Advocacy Program that “works to ensure the safety of victims and helps military families overcome the effects of violence and change destructive behavior patterns.”
But according to an investigation by the Virginian-Pilot, a review of the nearly 1,400 reports of child abuse and neglect made in a three-year period in the Mid-Atlantic Region, almost half of those reports were found to be “unsubstantiated” by the Navy, meaning each service member was cleared and the case was closed.
Betty Wade Coyle, executive director emeritus of Prevent Child Abuse Hampton Roads, told the Virginian-Pilot that the military is reluctant to come to conclusions in any kind of sexual abuse cases.
“Especially if [the accused is] an officer, it practically takes an act of Congress,” Coyle said.
Coyle believes one reason that happens is because a mandatory penalty for a service member who is found guilty of child sexual abuse means administrative separation from the service, possibly under less-than-honorable circumstances, unless the service member is acquitted in a criminal proceeding.
“Sometimes they identify with the perpetrator instead of the victim,” Coyle said. “They think: ‘Why is this a charge? Why is this going to wreck the guy’s career?’”
But Mary Ann Richards, a child welfare supervisor at the Virginia Beach Department of Human Services, told the Virginian-Pilot that the Navy may not have had enough information to pursue a case against the officer, who has about 24 years of service.
Richards said the agency verbally discusses abuse cases with military family advocacy workers and provides a copy of the agency’s findings, but does not share the full record of its investigation. Based on whom the Navy investigators interviewed and how intensive their investigation was, they could have had two different findings, she said.
Beth Baker is a spokeswoman for the Navy’s Mid-Atlantic region. She said that the lieutenant’s daughter declined to be interviewed by the Navy case manager, adding, “We followed all the right procedures.”
But according to the mother, the case manager never asked to speak to the 13-year-old daughter.
Regardless of the Navy’s investigation, many are wondering why the lieutenant was never prosecuted in a civilian court. According to a spokeswoman for Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney Harvey Bryant, although the city police investigated the case, Bryant’s office declined to prosecute the lieutenant because of insufficient evidence, since they have to prove the person is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Bryant said it is his office’s policy “not just to throw cases up in court that we really don’t think we can prove and hope a miracle happens,” and added that going to court requires “a substantial likelihood of a conviction.
“These cases are the kinds of crimes that police, law enforcement, prosecutors – we all know in our gut and our heart that this person committed the crime, but we don’t have the evidence that would be admissible in court to prove it,” Bryant told the Virginian-Pilot.
What happens with the case remains to be seen, as it could set a precedent for how military families who encounter abuse seek help. Although the lieutenant could potentially spend time behind bars for allegedly abusing two of their four children, his ex-wife says her children are already traumatized enough. “They’ve lost everything,” she said.
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