For months aboard the Charleston-based Coast Guard cutter Gallatin, six women said they endured sexual harassment from their supervising petty officer.
He fondled their breasts or grabbed their cameras and took pictures of his genitals, they said.
He told one that it was his mission to sleep with all the female seamen under his command, another woman said.
But most of the alleged victims who finished testifying Thursday in the court-martial of Petty Officer 2nd Class Omar Gomez didn’t report the episodes because they were new to the Coast Guard.
A pregnant Coast Guard member who said Gomez had offered to take her out in a small boat and cause a miscarriage eventually came forward in September 2012.
But Gomez’s attorneys on Thursday continued to point out inconsistencies between the women’s stories and the accounts they gave to a military grand jury earlier this year. In some cases, the lawyers asserted, the women were motivated to speak out because they did not like Gomez.
Gomez’s actions also were not harassment, they contended, because such sexual language and actions were common on the ship. One of the witnesses acknowledged that it was routine for members of the same sex to slap each other’s buttocks and say, “good game.”
“What we have heard is evidence of joking ... and physical horseplay,” one of his attorneys, Lt. Katherine Shovlin of the Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps, said in unsuccessfully asking for an acquittal by the judge.”
None of the Coast Guard members among the 14 people who testified for the prosecution have accused Gomez of forcing them to have sexual intercourse, though some of them said he pinned them down and tried. Earlier in the trial, a seaman’s civilian girlfriend testified that he assaulted her in a West Ashley apartment.
Before resting the defense case Friday, Gomez’s attorneys are expected to call more witnesses to further explain his side of the story. On Thursday, two said that they never saw any signs of trouble from Gomez and that he was respected among command staffers.
If he is found guilty of five violations of military law during the court-martial at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in North Charleston, he would face a wide range of punishment, including a dishonorable discharge and prison time. He is currently assigned to administrative duties in Charleston.
While some instances took place in the Lowcountry, most of the alleged conduct unfolded on the ship or at overseas ports of call. At Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for example, a woman said he touched her genitals as she swam in the ocean.
Gomez, 35, supervised all of the women at some point during their stints on the Gallatin. Many of them were 18 or 19 years old.
One said she became fed up with the harassment and finally told an officer on the ship.
“Everyone wants to fit in on a cutter,” she testified. “I didn’t want to be a loner.”
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.