Top Army sex assault prosecutor charged with groping woman during sex assault conference

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Lt. Col. Joseph Morse -PHOTO: AP/LM Otero

The U.S. Army has suspended its top prosecutor for sexual assault cases after an Army lawyer working for him filed charges that he groped and tried to kiss her, according to the blog

The lawyer says Lt. Col. Joseph Morse groped and attempted to kiss her when the two attended a sexual assault legal conference in Alexandria, Virginia over two years ago.

As news of Morse’s suspension was breaking, the Senate voted to block a proposal designed to aid in prosecutions of military personnel who sexually harass and assault subordinates.

Morse is supervisor of the Army’s special victims prosecutors, who focus handles charges involving sexual assault, domestic abuse and crimes against children. The incident leading to his suspension occurred before he was given the position.

No charges have yet been filed in the case, as the investigation continues, according to anonymous sources speaking to the military newspaper Stars and Stripes.

The bill voted down in the Senate would have taken prosecutorial authority in sex crimes cases away from senior military commanders. Championed by Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., the legislation fell five votes short of passage.

The bill’s supporters contend that the chain of command in military cases suppresses rape and assault allegations in order to shield top officials from reprisal or embarrassment. The Pentagon, declaring that it must have as much control of subordinates as possible, was the measure’s leading opponent.

In November, the former head of an Air Force sexual assault prevention program was acquitted of charges that he grabbed a woman's buttocks and breasts in a parking lot.

A recent Pentagon study showed that the number of service members who say they’ve been sexually assaulted during the last year amounted to roughly 26,000. Not all of the incidents were reported.