N.O.-based Coast Guardsman to face court-martial for alleged rape

April court martial will be held in N.O.

A U.S. Coast Guard member accused of raping a female colleague at a private residence in New Orleans last year will face a court martial this spring, the military branch announced Thursday.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Joe D. Newmans, 22, is charged in two military categories of crime — rape and sexual assault, and assault — stemming from a Nov. 29, 2012, incident.

The woman, also a member of the Coast Guard, reported the alleged assault to Coast Guard officials the next day, according to a Coast Guard news release.

Rear Adm. Kevin S. Cook found “reasonable grounds” to try Newmans based on recommendations from the military equivalent of a grand jury proceeding, which wrapped up Oct. 22.

The military trial is scheduled for April in New Orleans. The incident remains under investigation, and reports detailing the alleged crimes will not become public until after the court-martial, said Lt. Lily Zepeda, a Coast Guard spokeswoman.

A nine-month Coast Guard investigation found evidence that Newmans “engaged in sexually related misconduct ranging from rape to assault.”

Newmans has been administratively reassigned to Coast Guard Sector New Orleans from a previous post “to take him away from the victim,” Zepeda said. He remains on active duty while the criminal action proceeds, she said.

Under federal law, the military can handle crimes involving members of the armed forces, rather than turn them over to state authorities for prosecution.

“It’s the military taking ownership of its people. We want to charge our people and hold them to the higher standards of, ‘You’re in the military. This is not acceptable,’ ” Zepeda said.

Still, the military’s handling, or mishandling, of sexual-assault complaints against its personnel has drawn a rising chorus of criticism in Congress and elsewhere.

President Barack Obama, who has called sexual assaults in the military “a corrosive problem,” last week set a one-year deadline for the military to make progress on reforming how it handles such complaints, under threat of stiffer measures later.

A defense spending bill that Obama signed Thursday includes some changes, such as prohibiting military commanders from overturning sexual-assault convictions.

It does not include a proposal to take decisions on whether to prosecute assault allegations away from the military chain of command.

According to a recent survey, 26,000 men and women in the military were sexually assaulted in 2011, up from 19,000 in 2010.

More than 6 percent of active-duty women and 1.2 percent of active-duty men reported experiencing unwanted sexual contact in 2012. For women, the 6.1 percent figure was up from 4.4 percent in 2010, but down slightly from 6.8 percent in 2006.

According to an annual Pentagon report on sexual assaults in the military, officially reported incidents numbered 3,374 in 2012, a 6 percent increase from 2011 that some credited to better reporting rather than an increase in the actual number of incidents.

Newmans has served in the Coast Guard for nearly four years, the last two in New Orleans, Zepeda said.