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    Wednesday, June 12, 2024

    Senate panel chaired by Blumenthal looking into academy’s coverup of sexual assault report

    Charlie Company members of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Class of 2024 drill on the Washington Parade Field on Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020, during their Sea Trials in New London. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Hartford ― U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said Friday a Senate subcommittee he chairs will seek to get to the bottom of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy’s mishandling of internal investigations of decades of sexual assaults and its failure to disclose the findings of those investigations, transgressions that came to light in June.

    “It’s a topic that has outraged a lot of people in Connecticut and the country, and rightly so,” said Blumenthal, who spoke at a news conference at the Legislative Office Building.

    He was joined by Kenisha Farquharson, deputy director of the Connecticut Alliance to End Sexual Violence.

    Blumenthal’s office had announced Thursday that the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations had opened an inquiry into the academy. Blumenthal and the subcommittee’s ranking member, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., outlined the scope of the probe in a letter this week to Adm. Linda Fagan, commandant of the Coast Guard.

    “The leaders who oversaw or perhaps created the environment where misconduct occurred and did nothing must be held accountable,” the letter says. “It is unclear whether those responsible have continued their careers in the Coast Guard, received higher positions of authority, or left service and escaped accountability altogether.”

    In 2014, Blumenthal said the academy began investigating “dozens of reports of rapes and sexual assaults” that occurred at the academy in New London from the late 1980s until 2006. The reports were never properly investigated and those responsible were never disciplined, he said.

    Forty-three people were implicated in the crimes, which Blumenthal said were “horrific.” After the investigation, dubbed “Operation Fouled Anchor,” was concluded in January 2020, the academy covered it up, Blumenthal said, with Congress only learning of its existence through the reporting of CNN, the cable news network.

    Blumenthal said his subcommittee will review the academy’s investigations and hold accountable those who may have conducted them improperly and those involved in the decision to keep them secret. He said the panel also will look into whether any assistance can be provided to the victims of the sexual abuse.

    In their letter to Fagan, the senators cite a Jan. 31, 2020, memorandum in which then-Vice Adm. Michael McAllister wrote of Operation Fouled Anchor: “This investigation revealed that organizational and [Academy] reputation during this period often weighed against initiation of a criminal investigation and took precedence over concern for the victim.”

    According to the memo, the academy was aware of allegations against 30 of the 43 individuals implicated at the time of the alleged assaults. Only five, however, were contemporaneously reported to Coast Guard investigative services and/or local law enforcement, the senators wrote.

    Blumenthal noted Fagan’s predecessor as commandant, retired Adm. Karl Schultz, had made plans to share Operation Fouled Anchor’s findings with Congress in October 2018, but apparently no such briefing ever took place.

    Blumenthal called the Coast Guard Academy’s mishandling of its report “the most shameful, disgraceful coverup I’ve seen on the part of a governmental entity.”

    One former Coast Guard official has relinquished his position due to fallout from the CNN revelations.

    Retired Adm. Charles Ray, vice commandant of the Coast Guard from 2018 to 2021, stepped down in August from the academy’s Loy Institute for Leadership over his role in withholding the Operation Fouled Anchor report.

    “I am resigning for the good of the Service and the good of the Academy,” Ray wrote in a letter to the academy’s alumni association. “During the past week there has been a great deal of public discourse on decisions I was a part of during my last two years of service. I fully accept the criticism for my actions and have learned from reflecting on them.”

    Farquharson said the academy as an institution deserves considerable blame.

    “Not only did the academy ignore the behavior as it happened, they hid their knowledge of the full scope and depth of the problem,” she said. “While those who caused harm should be held accountable for their behavior, we must also wrestle with the culpability of institutions whose actions, or in this case inactions, further harmed those same survivors.”

    “This collusion between perpetrators of harm and the institutions they are a part of normalizes violence and leaves little recourse for victims,” she said.

    Blumenthal’s subcommittee has asked that the Coast Guard provide it with all records related to Operation Fouled Anchor; all policies, current and past, related to sexual assault and harassment; all records related to investigations of sexual assault at the academy since 2006; and all records related to its 90-Day Accountability and Transparency Review, an undertaking Fagan announced in July.

    b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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