Investigator details false statements by accused midshipmen in sexual assault case

Midshipmen Tra'ves Bush, Eric Graham and Josh Tate. A hearing has begun to determine whether the three will face a court-martial on charges that they sexually assaulted a female midshipman. U.S. Navy football via AP

WASHINGTON — More details emerged about falsified statements three Naval Academy men accused of sexual assault made to federal authorities as the chief investigator on the case took the witness stand Sunday night.

Special agent Jesus Torres, who had led the Naval Criminal Investigation Service’s (NCIS) inquiry into the alleged attack on a female midshipman, described how all three men initially lied about their interactions with the woman the night of the alleged attack, at a party on April 12, 2012.

In addition to sexual assault, all three men are charged with falsifying official statements.

Torres also revealed recollections of some of the other midshipmen who were questioned, including those who heard the accuser make statements that may be crucial to the defense’s efforts to show that the woman engaged in consensual sex with the three men, rather than against her will.

Torres, who was reassigned by the NCIS in October 2012, before the investigation concluded, described how all three of the accused, Trav’es Bush, Eric Graham and Joshua Tate, initially told investigators they did not see the accuser at the April 12 house party.

But after investigators gathered details from other partygoers, including that Bush had posted on a Facebook group page a remark about “doing it with a pharaoh hat on,” (which investigators took as a reference to sexual activity the night of the party), they called back each defendant for further questioning.

Ultimately, all three men disclosed that they had seen the woman at the party. Bush revealed he had been in a sexual relationship with the woman and eventually admitted they had sex the night of the party, though he contended it was consensual.

At this point in the hearing, it has not been established whether or when the other two defendants said they also had sex with the woman.

Torres also testified about a recollection from the accuser’s best friend, Midshipman Kenyon Williams, during his May 5, 2012, interview with NCIS.

Williams told investigators that he met up with the woman the morning after the party and alleged assault and said she told him, “What I did last night, I did it, and I wanted to do it,” Torres said, quoting verbatim from Williams’ statement.

That declaration could complicate the alleged victim’s assertions that she did not remember any sexual activity with the men and was seeking to determine whether any, consensual or not, had occurred.

The academy has come under fire by the accuser’s civilian lawyer, Susan Burke, and other advocates of reforming military sexual assault cases, for “doing nothing” to advance the woman’s case after initial inquiries in 2012, even though the woman did not cooperate fully with investigators until January 2013.

Asking questions seemingly aimed at underscoring the academy’s thoroughness, Cmdr. Warren Record, counsel for Tate, asked Torres whether NCIS had “pulled at every thread as hard as you could,” noting the 100-plus witnesses interviewed and 1,500 total pages of transcripts and notes.

Record also noted the high scrutiny sexual assault cases have been under recently, given the push by President Barack Obama and the Department of Defense to crack down on military sexual abuse cases, reports of which have increased exponentially in recent years.

Torres answered that the scope of the investigation had been vast, with agents poised to question midshipmen who were already at sea or were working civilian jobs.

“NCIS has eyes everywhere,” he said.

The hearing will continue Monday morning with the testimony of the co-accused and accuser’s fellow midshipmen.