7 Charleston officers picked for court martial in Coast Guard sex assault case

Seven military officers were picked Monday to hear evidence in the court martial of a Charleston-based Coast Guardsman facing sexual assault charges.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Omar Gomez, 35, is charged with five violations of military law in connection with alleged assaults or harassment of two civilian women and six members of the Coast Guard.

The allegations stemmed from Gomez’s time serving on the cutters Polar Star and Gallatin between May 2006 and September 2012. Some of the reports arose in Charleston.

His court martial, which could last up to two weeks at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in North Charleston, is similar to a civilian trial.

Potential jurors, though, were chosen from the ranks of Coast Guard officers based at Sector Charleston.

Fielding questions from military defense and prosecuting attorneys, they were asked about their impressions of sex assault as a problem for the military. Many of them agreed that it is.

The issue has garnered headlines this year as information has surfaced about its prevalency in the military and the lack of extensive follow-up investigation in some cases.

One of the potential jurors, a woman, said she was a victim of an assault soon after she joined the Coast Guard about 16 years ago. But when she reported it to a commanding officer, she said she was told “it was hearsay because he wasn’t there to witness it,” she said.

The judge presiding over the trial excused the woman from serving on the panel.

Of the seven who were chosen, four are men.

One of them said sex assaults were likely underreported in the military because of resistance from higher-ranked service members.

“I think people in my shoes as commanding officers,” he said, “are not taking care of it properly.”

The proceeding is expected to restart Tuesday morning with opening statements.

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.

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