Air Force officer accused in sex cases

February 11, 2008 11:15:24 AM PST
An Air Force colonel forcibly kissed a woman and put her hand on his genital area in separate incidents while he was a training commander, the woman testified Monday during a military hearing. Col. Samuel Lofton III, who is accused of indecent assault in the witness' case, raping another woman, stealing $10,000 and other crimes, did not supervise the victim, a civilian worker at Sheppard Air Force Base. She said she told him to stop both times.

"I was trying to figure out what I had to do to get away," she said, speaking haltingly and fighting back tears. "I was afraid it was going to go further. I was finally able to push against him to push him away."

The Associated Press does not normally identify victims of alleged sex crimes.

The woman testified on the opening day of Lofton's Article 32 hearing, which is similar to civilian grand jury proceedings, to determine if there is sufficient evidence to send the case to a court-martial.

Lofton is charged with rape, being absent without leave, 20 counts of larceny, four counts of indecent assault, two counts of dereliction of duty and two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. If he goes to trial and is convicted, Lofton faces a maximum penalty of life in a military prison.

The woman said she told superiors about her allegations in 2006 but said nothing was done.

Lofton served as commander for the base's 82nd Training Group, which has two squadrons that provide training for head aircraft mechanics. The group's other two squadrons train airmen how to be engine mechanics and how to build and load bombs and other weapons.

The training group has about 2,100 students on base at a time, taking classes that last from six weeks to nearly a year. Most have recently completed basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, and others have been in the military and need advanced training, according to base officials.

It's unclear if any of Lofton's three alleged victims were students.

The indecent assault charges stem from allegations that Lofton kissed two women against their will and forced them to touch him -- including the woman he is accused of raping in April. He is not accused of raping the first woman who testified Monday.

The unbecoming conduct charges stem from allegations that Lofton made lewd comments and tried to form a relationship with another woman at the base, according to documents.

Lofton became head of the 82nd Training Group, one of four groups under the 82nd Training Wing at Sheppard, in 2004. He was removed from his post in May after he was linked to financial irregularities, and the other allegations surfaced during that investigation, base officials said.

He is accused of stealing about $10,000 over a two-year period and abusing his government travel card, according to military court documents. At various times Lofton allegedly was absent without leave from the base in Wichita Falls, just south of the Texas-Oklahoma border.

A Pentagon report issued last year revealed that reports of sexual assaults in the military increased by about 24 percent in 2006, while more than twice as many offenders were punished.

There were nearly 3,000 sexual assault reports filed in 2006, compared with almost 2,400 the previous year, according to the report. Action was taken against 780 people, from courts-martial and discharges to other administrative remedies.

Of the 756 victims who were members of the military, 285 were in the Army and 247 in the Air Force -- the most of all the military branches.

A 2004 report said the sexual assault problem in the Air Force was more widespread than officials first thought, based on a four-month study of 85 installations in the U.S. and overseas.

Air Force teams found that many rapes were not reported because victims feared they would be disciplined, and response programs for victims were inadequate, according to the report that said "respondents repeatedly described sexual assault as a cultural issue." The study began a year after the rape scandal surfaced at the Air Force Academy in Colorado.

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