Lt. Col. Joseph “Jay” Morse, the Army prosecutor in charge of nearly two dozen prosecutors specializing in sexual assault and other sensitive cases, was recently suspended for allegedly assaulting a lawyer working with him two years ago.
News of Morse’s suspension broke in Stars and Stripes on Thursday morning. In addition to being in charge of the Army’s special victims prosecutors, Morse was — until his recently — responsible for Army prosecutorial training and assistance worldwide. According to Stars and Stripes, the alleged incident occurred two years ago between a female Army lawyer and Morse, who “attempted to kiss and grope her against her will.” Making matters all the worse, the assault allegedly occurred during a sexual-assault legal conference.
“We can confirm that this matter is currently under investigation and that the individual in question has been suspended from duties pending the outcome of the investigation,” an Army official told Stars and Stripes. “Given that this is still an open case, we are precluded from providing any additional information at this point.” Morse was also the lead prosecutor in the case against a soldier who massacred 16 Afghan civilians and was sentenced to life without parole.
This is at least the third incident in the last year in which a military official charged with preventing or handling sexual assault cases has been accused of assault themselves. Last May, Lt. Col. Jeff Krusinski, the head of the Air Force’s branch of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program, was accused of sexual battery outside an Arlington, Va. strip club. Only weeks later, the Army launched an investigation into a soldier assigned as his battalion’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program coordinator for allegedly assault his peers and forcing a subordinate into prostitution. And last year, the Department of Defense estimated that 26,000 instances of sexual assault had occurred over the course of 2012, a number that Center for American Progress analysts believe may in fact be even higher.
The news also came as the Senate finally prepared to vote on a bill from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) to reform the process in which the military handles sexual assault cases. Her bill — the Military Justice Improvement Act — had at least 58 supporters among her colleagues from both sides of the aisle and was originally due for a vote last week. That scheduled ballot was thrown off due to Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) demanding a vote on an amendment imposing sanctions on Iran as well.
Despite its bipartisan support, the bill failed to get the required 60 votes needed for cloture, due to opposition from members like Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) who insist that the MJIA’s removal of sexual assault cases from the military chain of command — turning the decision to go to court over to prosecutors — is unnecessary given the reforms contained in the previous years’ National Defense Authorization Act. McCaskill has her own measure, which unlike Gillibrand’s has the backing of Pentagon officials, that would build upon those reforms, having decisions not to proceed with investigations immediately forwarded to higher ranking officers. Neither Gillibrand nor McCaskill’s offices returned ThinkProgress’ requests for comment on the Morse case.