August 24, 2016 at 1:44 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Court martial underway for gay Air Force lieutenant
Joshua Seefried, gay news, Washington Blade

Air Force Lt. Joshua Seefried is accused of sexual assault. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A gay former U.S. Marine who has accused gay Air Force Lt. Joshua Seefried of sexually assaulting him in a New York hotel room in 2012 acknowledged in four and a half hours of testimony on Monday that multiple witnesses saw him and Seefried hugging, kissing and fondling one another in a hot tub in the hotel’s spa.

The former Marine’s testimony came on the first day of a court martial proceeding at Andrews Air Force Base in Camp Springs, Md., in which Seefried was on trial more than two years after being charged in April 2014 with wrongful and abusive sexual contact and forcible sodomy in connection with the former Marine’s allegations.

The former Marine stated repeatedly during his testimony that he was too drunk to consent to sex in the hot tub, in a nearby steam room, and a short time later in Seefried’s hotel room. He insisted he was the victim of sexual assault, even though two witnesses on Tuesday said he willingly participated in the hotel trysts.

D.C. gay activist Lane Hudson, who’s a friend of Seefried’s and who attended the trial on Monday and Tuesday, said the trial wrapped up on Wednesday, with a verdict expected to be handed down by the judge, Lt. Col. Andrew Kalvanos, on Thursday.

Seefried waived his right to a jury trial and opted for allowing the judge to render the verdict.

The gay Air Force lieutenant has been a prominent advocate for the rights of gays in the military. He was the co-founder in 2010 of the LGBT military advocacy group OutServe.

The court martial trial comes after a respected Air Force investigator conducted two proceedings considered similar to a civilian grand jury probe known as an Article 32 hearing and recommended the charges against Seefried be dropped because the evidence was insufficient to justify a court martial. The recommendations were rejected by Major Gen. Darryl Burke, commander of the Air Force District of Washington.

Burke’s action, and a later decision by Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James to reject a decision by prosecutors to allow Seefried to resign from the Air Force in lieu of a court martial, prompted observers to speculate that Burke and Lee were overreacting to longstanding criticism that military authorities have not adequately prosecuted sexual assault cases against women in the military.

According to information that surfaced in several pre-court martial hearings, the sexual assault allegations hanging over Seefried’s head for more than four years emerged from a weekend gathering in New York City in May 2012 of seven junior gay military officers from across the country who participated in Fleet Week, an annual event in which Navy and sometimes Coast Guard ships dock in a major U.S. city.

The gay officers, including the then Marine, were from all branches of the military and were also celebrating the repeal a few months earlier of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law and the behind-the-scenes effort by several of them, including Seefried, to push for its repeal.

According to sources familiar with the case, the gay officers met at a Manhattan restaurant for brunch on the afternoon of May 26, and all of them, including the then Marine, consumed several alcoholic beverages. After spending a good part of the afternoon at the restaurant, several of them accepted Seefried’s invitation to join him at the spa in the hotel in which he was staying, which was located about a mile from the restaurant.

All of them walked from the restaurant to the hotel, and witnesses said the then Marine appeared capable of walking without any outward signs of intoxication.

In his testimony on Monday, the former Marine said he may have consumed as many as eight mimosas at the restaurant and was so intoxicated that he had no memory of anything that happened from the time he was at the restaurant to the time he woke up confused and disoriented in Seefried’s hotel room bed.

Although the former Marine testified on Monday that he was too drunk to remember what happened in the hot tub, he told Judge Kalvanos that his memory returned after he woke up sometime before midnight in bed with both Seefried and then U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Commander John Fiorentine in the hotel room.

Fiorentine, who was also charged in the case before military prosecutors dropped the charges against him, testified at a pre-trial hearing in 2015 that he, Seefried and the then Marine engaged in a three-way sexual encounter in Seefried’s hotel room. Fiorentine testified at the hearing that the then Marine lieutenant consented to the sexual encounter.

He reiterated his assertion that the former Marine consented to sex with him and Seefried in testimony at the court martial trial on Tuesday.

On Monday, the former Marine said he had no memory of engaging in sex with Fiorentine but he recalled Seefried performing oral sex on him while lying on his back in the hotel room bed. Under questioning by Seefried’s civilian attorney, Richard Stevens, he acknowledged he said nothing and gave no outward gestures that he objected to Seefried’s advances other than lying still on his back and crossing his arms.

In response to further questions by Stevens, the former Marine testified that he moved away from Seefried on the bed and pushed him away when Seefried positioned himself to engage in anal intercourse. Seefried responded by immediately stopping his advances before falling asleep, the former Marine testified.

In response to questions by the lead Air Force prosecutor, Capt. Vince Romano, the former Marine testified that after he found his clothes and Seefried located his phone, he returned to his own hotel room. While taking a shower, he said he discovered lubricant had been placed in and around his rectum. A day or so later, he testified, he began to feel pain and irritation in his rectum, leading him to believe that he may have been penetrated by Seefried while his memory was still “blacked out” due to intoxication.

Upon his return to his military base in Virginia he talked to a friend who was studying to be a psychologist. He testified that the friend told him he most likely had been sexually assaulted and should go to a medical facility to be examined. The former Marine said he followed that advice, and was examined by a military nurse who specialized in sexual assault injuries.

At the time, the nurse’s diagnosis was his anal discomfort could have been caused by anal penetration consistent with a sexual assault, a “finding” that eventually led to Seefried being charged with forcible sodomy.

But in testimony at the court martial trial on Tuesday, the nurse said that after a closer look at her records of her examination of the then Marine, she was confident in saying his anal pain resulted from a medical issue and not from anal penetration.

Also testifying on Tuesday was Jeffrey Gottredsen, one of the people present at the New York restaurant and at the spa next to the hot tub. Under questioning by defense attorney Stevens, he said he saw the then Marine and Seefried in the hot tub kissing and touching each other’s necks, thighs and genitals in a mutually consenting manor.

Despite his repeated acknowledgement during his testimony that he didn’t express objections to advances by Seefried and Fiorentine during their hotel room interactions, the former Marine said he did not consent to any sex with the two men, in part, because he did not find them attractive and was too intoxicated to raise objections.

In response to prosecutor Romano, he also pointed out that when he awoke in Seefried’s hotel room bed he discovered he could not find his phone or any of his clothes other than a shirt he was wearing. He said that, still drunk and in a haze, he realized he could not leave the room to return to his own room in another hotel without being charged with indecent exposure.

“I felt trapped,” he said.

Although he testified that Seefried never forced him to stay in the hotel room and promised to help him find his phone and clothes in the morning, the former Marine said Seefried did tell him if he wanted to stay in his room and sleep in his bed he would have to agree to “cuddle.”

“Did you want to do this?” asked Romano. “No,” the former Marine replied. “Did he say anything?” the prosecutor asked. “If you want to stay in my room you have to cuddle,” the former Marine replied.

“Were you comfortable about that?” Romano asked. “No…I felt like I had no other options. I had no clothes,” the former Marine said.

In his cross examination of the former Marine, Stevens asked repeatedly why the then Marine, according to multiple witnesses at the hotel, appeared to willingly engage in sex with Seefried in the hot tub, in a steam room and in the hotel room and why he never expressed any objections.

“Substantial incapacitation” due to alcohol intoxication, the former Marine said repeatedly.

“In your mind, could you have consented to those events?” Stevens asked him. “No,” he replied. “Why?” Stevens asked. “Those two individuals did not have my consent,” said the former Marine, in referring to Seefried and Fiorentine.

At least three more prosecution witnesses and three defense witnesses were expected to testify on Wednesday before the case was to go before the judge for deliberations over a verdict.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

  • Sounds like a sour grapes setup against Air Force Lt.Seefried to me. The former Marine accuser–is he looking for money, excuses, revenge when all the data points to his mutual consent?? And why is the USA Military still bothering male members having private and personal sexual activities with one another on vacation, off base, etc? Would not surprise me and neither would anti-gay bigotry still in motion with certain members of the high military brass be at work.

  • Innocent on all charges!!

  • The judge just found Lt. Josh Seefried innocent of all charges in the court martial.

  • Good result! Except for the fact that this Lt had to hire a civilian attorney to fight charges a third year law student could figure out are bogus. I don’t blame him for hiring a civilian and commend Mr. Stevens who obviously did a great job, but it it seems that the military prosecutors should have been able to dismiss the charges if the facts are as reported. This could be anti-gay, or it could just be that the complaining witness was a Marine who they feared would have complained. I wonder how on earth could this Marine make it through Parris Island or Quantico, but could not object to getting a blow job, or find some clothes and get out of the room and away from his “attacker.”

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