former Navy football players will face a court-martial for the alleged sexual assault of a female midshipman at an off-campus party in April, 2012, U.S. Naval Academy officials said Thursday.
The two midshipmen who will go on trial are Joshua Tate, 21, of Nashville, Tenn., who is charged with aggravated sexual assault, and Eric Graham, 21, of Eight Mile, Ala., who is charged with abusive sexual contact. Both are also charged with making false statements.
A third ex-player, Tra’ves Bush, 22, of Johnston, S.C., who was charged with aggravated sexual assault, will not face court martial. Bush’s graduation in May was held up until the case is resolved.
“We are committed to a thorough, effective and fair conduct system and investigative process, and the Naval Academy will meet the highest standards, operate consistent with the law, and expeditiously investigate every report of unwanted sexual contact, sexual harassment and sexual assault,” academy spokesperson Jenny Erickson said.
The decision to send two of the accused to court martial was made by Academy Superintendent Michael H. Miller. It comes amid intense scrutiny of the military’s handling of sexual assault cases.
The Department of Defense has estimated that as many as 26,000 service members were the targets of unwanted sexual contact last year, although only 3,374 incidents of sexual assault were reported. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and other lawmakers have been pushing for such cases to be taken away from the military chain of command — so far, without success.
Earlier this week, U.S. District Judge Ellen Hollander blocked an attempt by the alleged victim to force Miller to recuse himself from the case.
Susan Burke, an attorney for the alleged victim, had argued in court that Miller was biased against her client, now a 21-year-old senior, who endured hours of brutal cross-examination during a preliminary hearing. Burke said Miller and the defense attorneys intentionally tried to exhaust and intimidate the alleged victim, who was grilled about her underwear, how she danced, and how she performed oral sex.
But Hollander said she did not find grounds for a civilian court to interfere in an ongoing military investigation.
(The Washington Post generally does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault.)
The case against the midshipmen hinges on whether the alleged victim was too intoxicated to give consent to sexual relations. The young woman has said she had been drinking heavily the night of the “toga and yoga” party and does not remember much of what happened. She had been friends with the accused and had been involved in an on-again, off-again sexual relationship with Bush.
In the days that followed the party, she heard rumors and saw social media posts that suggested she had had sex with multiple men. And at least two of the accused allegedly later admitted to her that they had engaged in sex acts with her that night.
The events of that night were rehashed at the Article 32 hearing over several days. The proceedings, which took place at the Washington Navy Yard, provided an often unflattering portrait of the Navy’s elite, taxpayer-funded training ground for officers, including by heavy drinking, casual sex, and social media harassment.
Under military law, the maximum penalty for rape is life in prison without the possibility of parole and a dishonorable discharge, according to Lisa Windsor, a former judge advocate now in private practice.
The two midshipmen could also be forced to repay the cost of their education.
In 2006, a military jury acquitted former Navy football quarterback Lamar Owens on charges he allegedly raped a female midshpman. But Owens was still expelled and required to repay the academy $90,000.