Lt. Col. Joseph “Jay” Morse, a top Army sexual assault prosecutor, has been suspended after being charged with sexual assault.
Morse was in charge of supervising almost two dozen special victims prosecutors, responsible for ferreting out cases of sexual assault, domestic abuse, and crimes against children in the Army. Now a lawyer who used to work for him has come forward with the claim that Morse groped her and tried to kiss her in a hotel room at a conference in 2011.
Morse was head of the Trial Counsel Assistance Program at Fort Belvoir, Va., training Army prosecutors worldwide, and acted as the lead prosecutor in the Robert Bales case — the staff sergeant who pleaded guilty to mass murder of 16 Afghan civilians in 2012.
“We can confirm that this matter is currently under investigation and that the individual in question has been suspended from duties pending the outcome of the investigation,” an Army official told Stars and Stripes, speaking under condition on anonymity. “Given that this is still an open case, we are precluded from providing any additional information at this point.”
At a time when investigations of sexual assault are at an all-time high, Nancy Parrish, president of Protect Our Defenders, said that Morse’s case is yet another example of why the sexual assault “status quo” needs an overhaul.
"If true, this case is yet another disheartening example of the hollow pledges of ‘zero tolerance’ we have heard for more than 20 years,” Parrish wrote in an email. “When the military has those at top of the chain who are in charge of fighting sexual assault accused of sexual misconduct at a conference on sexual assault it should be clear to every level headed human being [that] the status quo must be changed."
588 soldiers were recently disqualified from “positions of trust” at the end of a year-long investigation into sexual assault in the Army. An Associated Press investigation found that the military frequently reduced strong cases to lesser charges and that suspects were unlikely to serve time, even if convicted of misconduct.
The Military Justice Improvement Act, sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and aimed at shifting the responsibility of prosecuting soldiers charged with serious criminal charges to military trial lawyers outside the chain of command, failed to pass Thursday in the Senate.