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Air Force officer in sex assault case appears at court hearing

Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Krusinski, 41, is pictured in this undated handout photo released May 6, 2013 by the Arlington County Police Depa
Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Krusinski, 41, is pictured in this undated handout photo released May 6, 2013 by the Arlington County Police Depa

By Tabassum Zakaria

ARLINGTON, Virginia (Reuters) - Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Krusinski, accused of sexual battery in a case that has acutely embarrassed the military, stood silently in civilian court on Thursday as his attorney argued unsuccessfully for a later trial date.

Krusinski, 41, was chief of the Air Force sexual assault prevention and response branch when he was arrested on Sunday for allegedly groping the breasts and buttocks of a woman in a parking lot near the Pentagon.

One source told Reuters that the woman and Krusinski were not acquaintances.

While Krusinski is presumed innocent unless convicted, the case is becoming a symbol of the rising problem of sexual assault in the military highlighted in a Pentagon report this week.

Wearing a black blazer, khaki pants and striped tie, the stocky Air Force officer stood silently as Arlington County General District Court Judge Richard McCue set a trial date for July 18.

A dark shadow of a bruise could be seen under his left eye.

The police report of the arrest on Sunday said a drunken man approached a woman in a parking lot, grabbed her, and she fought off the suspect when he tried to touch her for a second time.

The Pentagon report which showed a 37 percent increase in sexual assault in the military last year rattled Washington.

Top White House officials and lawmakers met on Thursday to discuss how to toughen laws to prevent and punish sexual assault in the military.

"If we find out somebody is engaging in this stuff, they've got to be held accountable - prosecuted, stripped of their positions, court-martialed, fired, dishonorably discharged. Period. It's not acceptable," President Barack Obama said earlier this week.

Krusinski, a personnel officer, has been removed from the sexual assault prevention position and reassigned to force management and readiness analysis where his specific job was still being determined, an Air Force spokeswoman said.

The military had initially requested jurisdiction, but the Arlington County prosecutor decided to keep the case and prosecute it in civilian court.

At the arraignment, half of the courtroom was filled with reporters, while outside the court building a line of television cameras gathered. Krusinski walked past the throng of media, staring straight ahead, without saying a word. His attorney, Sheryl Shane, would not comment either.

In the courtroom, Shane argued for a later court date, saying more time was needed to prepare for trial, but the judge decided against that. Shane also said she did not know how many witnesses the defense would call and the trial might take longer than one day.

(Reporting by Tabassum Zakaria; Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton)

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