ANNAPOLIS – Senior quarterback and co-captain of the 2005 Navy football team Lamar Owens has been charged with raping a female midshipman late last month in her dorm room at the U.S. Naval Academy, academy officials announced Wednesday.
The charges against Owens, a 22-year-old from Savannah, Ga., are the latest in a series of embarrassments involving sexual misconduct at the nation’s service academies.
“These charges are accusations and Midshipman Owens is presumed innocent until proven guilty,” academy spokesman Cmdr. Rod Gibbons said. “He remains assigned to the academy and he will continue attending class and performing duties normally assigned to midshipmen pending the outcome of this investigation.”
The name of the alleged victim was not released, in accordance with Navy policy.
“The academy is doing everything possible to protect the victim, as well as offer support and counseling,” Gibbons said. “The academy has also taken steps to prevent contact between the accused and victim to protect both parties.”
Owens, an option quarterback who topped the team in both rushing and passing, led Navy last year to an 8-4 record. His eligibility is complete, however, as he has played for four seasons.
Owens’ career highlights include a win in the Poinsettia Bowl over Colorado State, beating Army all four seasons, and winning 2005’s E.E. “Rip” Miller Award, a Navy football team prize which is presented to the season’s most valuable player as voted by his teammates.
Scott Strasemeier, Navy’s sports information director, directed all questions about Owens and the charges to Gibbons.
“The case is being handled through the superintendent’s office,” Strasemeier said, “and it would be inappropriate for anyone in the athletic department to comment.”
Navy officials say the rape allegedly occurred “on or about January 29” in the female midshipman’s room in Bancroft Hall, where all 4,000 midshipmen live. Because this is on the grounds of the academy, the complaint is being investigated by the Naval Criminal Investigation Service and not the Annapolis or Anne Arundel County police. Likewise, prosecution will be through the military justice system instead of the state courts.
The charges the academy brought against Owens include rape, indecent assault and conduct unbecoming of an officer, according to a statement by academy officials.
The next step for Owens is an Article 32 hearing, Gibbons said, a process he compared to a civilian grand jury inquiry.
“The Article 32 hearing is not a trial; guilt or innocence is not determined,” he said. “The information obtained in the Article 32 hearing can lead to actions ranging from no action, to administrative action, up to and including a trial by court martial.”
In general, midshipmen against whom criminal charges are brought are not permitted to graduate until the charges have been resolved, Gibbons said.
U.S. service academies have been plagued by charges of rape and sexual misconduct in recent years. A Pentagon task force found that the atmospheres at the Naval Academy, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado discouraged women from reporting such crimes.
“These issues are taken seriously. All allegations are thoroughly investigated and we ensure due process,” Gibbons said. “The Navy’s policy is that the Navy does not tolerate sexual misconduct, harassment or assault.”
About 5 percent of women at those three academies, according to the December task force report, said they experienced sexual assault during the 2004-2005 school year. About half said they were sexually harassed.
In 2000, two Navy football players were charged with raping an unconscious female midshipman at an off-campus party. They later made a court-approved deal to have the charges dropped in exchange for agreeing to leave the academy and have no contact with their accuser.
In 2003, female cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy began to come forward with allegations that they had been sexually abused by fellow cadets and that their reports of the crimes had been ignored due to the school’s attitudes towards such conduct.
“It is highly unusual when one of our 4,200 midshipmen is alleged to fall short of the standards we seek to imbue in our future officers,” Gibbons said. “Even rarer still is when a midshipman in a highly visible leadership position allegedly fails to meet these high standards.” “These issues are taken seriously, all allegations are thoroughly investigated, and we ensure due process,” Gibbons said.