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Sexual assault case against Air Force general can proceed, judge rules

Sexual assault case against Air Force general can proceed, judge rules
© Aaron Schwartz

A federal judge on Thursday ruled that the sexual assault case against the joint chiefs of staff vice chairman, Air Force Gen. John Hyten, may proceed despite Hyten’s claim that his military service prevented him from being sued. 

Hyten, who has denied the accusations against him from Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser, had filed a motion for the case to not continue, citing the Feres Doctrine, which prevents federal service members from being sued in civil court. 

However, Judge Michael Fitzgerald of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California said Thursday in his ruling that “it is not conceivable that his [Hyten’s] military duties would require him to sexually assault Plaintiff, or that such an assault would advance any conceivable military objective.” 

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Spletstoser had accused Hyten of making repeated unwanted sexual advances against her between February 2017 and February 2018. The accusations, which Hyten has denied, came after he was nominated in 2019 to be the Pentagon’s No. 2 military official.

A redacted copy of an August 2019 Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI) report stated that Spletstoser, who was then the director of Hyten’s Commander’s Action Group, interacted with him daily and regularly traveled with him on official trips.

According to the report, Spletstoser claimed that the first time Hyten touched her inappropriately was during a trip to Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., when Hyten allegedly grabbed her left hand and held it to his groin. 

Spletstoser also told the OSI that between May 2017 and February 2018, Hyten would regularly tell her he had feelings for her and try to kiss or touch her when they were alone together in his offices at the Pentagon and Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.

In the report, however, the Air Force said it was unable to verify the sexual assault allegations against Hyten, adding that the office “was unable to find indications of an unprofessional relationship either electronically or through witness interviews.” 

The Senate later confirmed Hyten to the joint chiefs vice chairman role in September 2019. 

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Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeHouse Democrats back slower timeline for changing Confederate base names Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee Overnight Defense: Trump orders troop drawdown in Afghanistan and Iraq | Key Republicans call Trump plan a 'mistake' MORE (R-Okla.) said at the time of Hyten’s confirmation that while the committee “takes allegations of sexual assault very seriously and has for many years, we can’t stop a nomination from going forward on unproven allegations, especially ones we examined with the utmost of care and close scrutiny and determined not to have merit.”

Air Force Maj. Trisha Guillebeau, a spokesperson for Hyten, told Politico on Thursday that the Department of Justice is reviewing the U.S. District Court’s ruling. 

“As is our practice in all ongoing litigation, we are not going to comment on the details,” Guillebeau said.

The Hill has reached out to Justice Department and the Department of Defense for comment.