Gay U.S. Air Force Lt. Joshua Seefried, who is facing sexual assault charges, confirmed that he waived his right to a pre-court martial evidentiary proceeding known as an Article 32 hearing at an arraignment on April 4 at Andrews Air Force Base.
The arraignment followed a decision by Air Force prosecutors last year to reinstate charges that Seefried engaged in wrongful and abusive sexual conduct and forcible sodomy. The charges stem from allegations by a gay U.S. Marine lieutenant that Seefried performed sexual acts on him in a New York hotel room in 2012 while the Marine was intoxicated and unable to give consent.
A military investigator who presided over two previous Article 32 hearings in the Seefried case concluded following both proceedings that there was insufficient evidence to prove the allegations against Seefried and that a court martial would most likely result in Seefried’s acquittal.
The investigator, Col. Robert Preston, recommended against a court martial and called for the charges to be dropped. Preston’s second recommendation came after a U.S. Coast Guard officer, who had been with Seefried and the Marine at the New York hotel room when the sexual assault allegedly occurred, testified that the Marine had consented to a three-way sexual encounter with him and Seefried.
Despite this testimony and Preston’s recommendations, Maj. General Darryl Burke, commander of the Air Force District of Washington, overruled Preston’s recommendations both times and ordered that the case go to court martial.
At the April 4 arraignment, Seefried’s military attorney, Capt. Allen Abrams, confirmed that Seefried also had requested that he be allowed to resign from the Air Force in lieu of a court martial and that the request was denied. Abrams didn’t say who denied the request.
But two sources familiar with the case have told the Washington Blade that Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James denied the resignation request in December after it had been approved by Air Force prosecutors and Burke.
At the time Air Force prosecutors agreed last year to allow Seefried to resign in lieu of a court martial, they dropped the charges pending against him to facilitate the resignation agreement, even though under Air Force regulations such an agreement cannot be finalized unless it is approved by the Air Force Secretary.
An Air Force spokesperson has declined to confirm or deny that the resignation request and its denial by Air Force Secretary James had taken place, saying such developments were personnel matters that are not part of the public record. The spokesperson, Lt. Col. Joel Harper, said the sexual assault charges were dropped and reinstated in Seefried’s case as part of an “administrative matter” for which he could not provide further details.
The judge presiding over the Monday, April 4 arraignment, Lt. Col. Andrew Kalavanos, set a tentative date of July 18 for a pre-court martial motions hearing. He noted that the court martial has been scheduled to begin on Aug. 22.
Air Force observers familiar with the case have said they expect Seefried’s civilian attorney to reintroduce a motion calling for dismissal of the case on grounds of unlawful command influence. The attorney, Richard Stevens, had introduced a similar motion last year, which became null and void when the charges against Seefried were dropped to pursue the resignation in lieu of court martial option.
Stevens argued at the time he first introduced the motion that Maj. Gen. Burke appeared to be under pressure from members of Congress and Pentagon officials who have criticized the military in recent years for not being aggressive enough in prosecuting sexual assault cases.