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Coast Guard cadet charged with sexual assaults

A senior at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy has been charged with sexually assaulting six female cadets.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A senior at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy has been charged with sexually assaulting six female cadets in the campus barracks and other sites.

Webster M. Smith, 22, of Houston was separated from the rest of the student population after the first complaint was filed with administrators Dec. 4, the academy said.

Smith, a linebacker on the academy’s football team, was charged Feb. 9 under military law with rape, assault, indecent assault and sodomy against female cadets, said Chief Warrant Officer David French, an academy spokesman.

Some of the attacks allegedly happened on academy grounds when Smith entered female cadets’ rooms without permission. Others were reported off campus. The rape allegedly occurred in June 2005 during a trip to Annapolis, French said.

A military hearing was tentatively scheduled for March 15 to determine whether there is enough evidence for a trial that could result in a court-martial, French said. Such a military hearing is typically open to the public, but the presiding military official could close it.

After the hearing, the academy’s superintendent, Rear Adm. James C. Van Sice, will decide how to proceed.

While separated from other cadets, Smith was not jailed and was allowed to return home for holiday leave. He returned to campus Tuesday and was assigned a work area on academy grounds along the waterfront, an area other cadets are prohibited from entering, the academy said.

“He’s no longer in the barracks, and he does not actually stay at the campus at night,” French said.

Smith’s lawyer, Merle Smith, who is not related, told WTIC-TV the cadet insists he is not guilty of all charges.

‘One side of the story’
“The public is only receiving one side of the story, as all of the charges in their most sordid representation,” the lawyer said.

It was unclear whether the alleged victims were under Smith’s military command, although seniors have supervisory power over lower-level cadets. French would not release the women’s class ranks.

French said there is no recent record of any previous courts-martial at the academy, the smallest federal service academy, with about 980 cadets. About 280 are women, according to its Web site. Male and female cadets share dormitories but have separate rooms.

In 2004, nearly 150 women at the Air Force Academy in Colorado came forward with accusations that they had been sexually assaulted by fellow cadets between 1993 and 2003. Many alleged they were ignored or ostracized by commanders for speaking out. A Pentagon task force found that hostile attitudes and inappropriate treatment of women also persisted at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and at the Naval Academy.