The U.S. Army has suspended its top prosecutor for sexual assault cases over allegations that he groped a female subordinate and tried to force her to kiss him. Stars and Stripes reported Thursday that Lt. Col. Joseph “Jay” Morse is accused of attempting to force himself upon a lawyer working under his supervision at a conference addressing sexual assault in the military.
According to Stars and Stripes, Morse presided over more than two dozen “special victim” cases for the military, a category that includes crimes like domestic abuse, sexual assault and child abuse.
The prosecutor has been removed from his position during the investigation, but formal charges have yet to be filed. Morse presided over training of Army prosecutors worldwide and was the lead prosecutor in the case of Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the soldier who confessed to the mass murder of 16 Afghan civilians in 2012.
According to allegations made by a lawyer working on Morse’s team, Morse tried to grope and kiss the woman against her will at a sexual assault legal conference in Alexandria, VA in 2011. The attack reportedly took place in Morse’s hotel room and happened before he was appointed as chief of the Trial Counsel Assistance Program.
An Army official told Stars and Stripes on condition of anonymity, “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. Given that this is still an open case, we are precluded from providing any additional information at this point.”
The military has been reluctantly acknowledging and attempting to address the high incidence of sexual assault that take place within its ranks. In many cases, female soldiers are afraid to come forward for fear of retaliation or of having their careers destroyed.
The Senate voted on Thursday to block a bill sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) that would restructure the means of reporting sexual assault and take the adjudication and prosecution of such crimes out of the military chain of command. Supporters of the measure believe that to do so would safeguard sex assault survivors from reprisals and retaliation by their attackers.
The Associated Press said that Thursday’s vote was “unlikely to be the last word” on the legislation.