Pentagon sexual assault prevention chief stepping down

The head of the Pentagon’s sexual assault prevention office plans to step down next month, the Pentagon announced Monday.

Army Maj. Gen. Gary Patton, who has led the Pentagon’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office for 18 months, will leave his post in January and retire in the spring after a 35-year military career.

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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Monday named Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow as Patton’s replacement. Snow is currently the Army’s director of Strategy, Plans and Policy.

At the helm of the sexual assault prevention office, Patton has been in the middle of a firestorm over sexual assault within the ranks. Lawmakers and advocacy groups have called for major reforms to the way the military investigates and prosecutes sexual assault cases, some of which the Pentagon has vigorously opposed.

As President Obama called on the military to do more to curb the rise of sexual assaults, Hagel held weekly meetings with Patton for updates on how the Pentagon was tackling the problem.

“He has a history of tackling tough assignments and I want to thank him for the transparency, energy, persistence and strong leadership he has brought to the department's sexual assault prevention and response program over these past 18 months,” Hagel said in a statement.

Patton said in a statement that he was “heartened by signs of progress in combating sexual assault.”

Patton was also taking fire as the subject of a Defense Department Inspector General investigation.

The inspector general found that Patton and Lt. Gen. William Caldwell had tried to prevent their staff in Afghanistan from communicating with the inspector general. Caldwell retired last month.

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a government watchdog group, called for Patton to be removed from his sexual assault prevention post last month over the allegations. The group argued that Patton could not be trusted to handle the sensitive whistle-blower cases involving reports of sexual assault and rape.

“Maj. Gen. Gary Patton was not the right person to lead this important program and his retirement is the first step in restoring credibility to the Pentagon’s promise of reducing sexual assaults in the military,” POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian said in a statement Monday.

Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters Monday that Patton’s decision to retire had nothing to do with the inspector general report.

— Carlo Muñoz contribted to this report.