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Marine Corps prosecutor cleared of inappropriate touching

Apr. 1, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, USS Bataan Members
Lt. Col. Thomas Jasper, former western regional trial counsel at Camp Pendleton, Calif., has been cleared of wrongdoing by a Board of Inquiry at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Jasper, a major at the time this photo was taken, is expected to take a new legal position outside of the western region. (Lance Cpl. Brian Lewis / Marine Corps)
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A panel of three colonels voted unanimously to retain a Marine field-grade officer accused of touching a civilian woman inappropriately, his attorney said this week.

Lt. Col. Thomas Jasper, the former western regional trial counsel at Camp Pendleton, Calif., was cleared of misconduct at a Board of Inquiry following accusations that he slapped the rear end of a civilian female subordinate at a social event following legal training in Newport, R.I., last year. The panel also found no basis for allegations of substandard performance, which stemmed from accusations that Jasper treated certain junior officers in a demeaning way.

The government had about 11 witnesses lined up for the three-day hearing at Pendleton, while the defense prepared 19, though not all testified on either side, said Jon Shelburne, a Reserve Marine lieutenant colonel who represented Jasper.

Shelburne said Jasper denied the claims of inappropriate contact outright.

“From his standpoint, and there were witnesses in that group setting that confirmed, it did not happen,” he said.

Regarding the allegation of demeaning treatment, Shelburne said he argued Jasper’s conduct was acceptable when viewed in the context of the individual interactions.

“When you put the context to those situations, it was explainable in a way that it made sense,” he said. “I think it was easy for the board to see in those circumstances.”

It’s not clear what is next for Jasper, who was reassigned to Headquarters and Service Battalion aboard Pendleton following the accusations of inappropriate contact. Shelburne said he will likely take a new legal position soon, but probably not in the same trial region as before.

“Lt. Col. Jasper and his family, this has been a big stress on them. As much as they're very, very happy that the process ended up working the way it did, it was difficult to go through that process,” Shelburne said. Despite that stress, Shelburne said, Jasper wanted to emphasize a desire that his case not create a rift within his field.

“No one wants this to reflect poorly on the judge advocate community or the Marine Corps for that matter,” he said.

Marine Corps Times has requested a copy of the criminal investigation that spurred Jasper’s Board of Inquiry, but has yet to receive it.

Jasper’s hearing took place amid a flurry of sexual assault accusations levied against military prosecutors. The Army’s top sexual assault prosecutor, Lt. Col. Joseph Morse, was suspended from his post last month after allegations that he’d sexually harrassed and assaulted a lawyer who worked for him. More recently, a West Coast Fox News affiliate reported that Army Maj. Erik Burris, chief of justice for the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., also faces sexual assault charges.

For Jasper at least, the inappropriate touching accusation led to a courtroom because of the current heightened sensitivity to sexual assault in the military, Shelburne said.

“This, by all accounts, should have been dealt with administratively,” he said. “It did not need to be handled in a semi-judicial forum, but here we are.”

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