Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, who led the Air Force's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response unit, is surrounded by members of the media while leaving the Arlington County General District Court on July 18 in Arlington, Va. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP)
ARLINGTON, VA. — The Air Force officer accused of groping a woman outside a bar near the Pentagon went on trial Tuesday morning in Arlington.
Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, who had led an Air Force sexual assault response office, faces charges of assault and battery in the May 5 incident. Arlington County prosecutors initially sought sexual battery charges against Krusinski, 42, for allegedly grabbing a woman's breasts and buttocks.
Theo Stamos, the county's lead prosecutor, said a seven-person jury will hear evidence in the trial, which could last two days.
Krusinski's case became a rallying point for critics of the Pentagon's efforts to curb sexual assault. The alleged incident occurred about the same time the military had released a report showing instances of unwanted sexual contact among troops had increased by about one-third to 26,000 incidents in 2012.
Senators grilled Air Force chief of staff Gen. Mark Welsh about the case when he appeared before the Armed Services Committee. Welsh told them Krusinski, who had been on the job for a few months, was a good candidate for the position.
Welsh had sought to have the case transferred to military court, but Stamos declined, saying the thought had never occurred to her not to prosecute the case in county court.
Krusinski's trial comes as the Senate prepares to consider measures that will diminish the authority of military commanders in sexual assault cases. One proposal, put forward by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., would put military lawyers in charge of decisions to prosecute the crimes, negating commanders' traditional authority to decide on prosecution and ability to toss out sentences.
A proposal by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., would stop short of Gillibrand's. It would allow commanders to determine the cases that get prosecuted but prevent them from overturning convictions. McCaskill's approach has support in the Pentagon.