February 16, 2006

Coast Guard cadet charged with sexual assault

HARTFORD, Connecticut (Reuters) - A cadet at the U.S. Coast
Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, was charged on
Thursday with sexually assaulting six of his female classmates.

Cadet 1st Class Webster Smith, 22, a senior from Houston
who played linebacker on the Academy's football team, faces
multiple counts including rape and sodomy in the assaults of
six female cadets, the Coast Guard said.

Coast Guard officials allege Smith committed at least 10
assaults, and that all of the incidents took place in the cadet
barracks between June and November of 2005.

Chief Warrant Officer David French said on Thursday the
Coast Guard had begun an Article 32 hearing under the military
code of justice, similar to a criminal investigation in
civilian courts. He said under those rules, Smith was presumed
innocent until proven guilty.

Smith will face a hearing in front of a military tribunal
on March 15.

"Cadet Smith currently remains assigned to the Academy in
cadet status while the case pends, but is barred from currently
having any contact with other cadets and is not attending
classes," French said.

French added that "appropriate precautions" were being
taken to ensure the safety of the other cadets at the Coast
Guard Academy.

Smith is the first Coast Guard cadet to be accused of
sexual assault since the Academy started admitting women in