Coast Guardsman with Seattle ties accused of rape, assault

Coast Guardsman with Seattle ties accused of rape, assault
Photo courtesy of the US Coast Guard
SEATTLE -- (AP) - A Coast Guard petty officer who was once stationed in Seattle is accused of rape, sexual assault and other charges and will face a court-martial expected to begin in September in South Carolina, military officials said Tuesday.

The commander of the Coast Guard district headquartered in Portsmouth, Va., said in a news release that a hearing found grounds to put Petty Officer 2nd Class Omar Gomez on trial in Charleston.

The charges allege that Gomez, 35, engaged in a range of sexual misconduct from rape to inappropriate comments involving two civilians and six Coast Guard women.

The investigation began after a reported sexual assault last September aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Gallatin, which is based in Charleston. Officials say that led to other cases ranging from the Seattle area to Honduras and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Gomez had previously been stationed on the Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star in Seattle

A charge related to an alleged 2006 rape in Seattle will not be pursued because the victim decided not to participate in legal proceedings, the Coast Guard said.

"We are committed to ensuring the victims of sexual assault receive all the support and treatment they need, that their privacy is protected, and that military justice is conducted in a timely, objective and fair process," Vice Adm. Robert Parker said. "We remain steadfast in our efforts to change attitudes, behavior and cultures that have allowed the crime of sexual assault to damage the lives of our shipmates."

The Pentagon released a report in May estimating that as many as 26,000 military members may have been sexually assaulted last year and that thousands of victims are unwilling to come forward despite new oversight and assistance programs. That figure is an increase over the 19,000 estimated assaults in 2011.

Speaking at the Naval Academy last May, President Barack Obama said sexual assault threatens the "trust and discipline" that makes the U.S. military strong and respected.