Female shipmates testify in supervisor's sexual assault trial

By Stacy

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Three female Coast Guard members testified Thursday morning regarding alleged sexual harassment by one of their supervisors aboard the Coast Guard cutter Gallatin.

All served on the Gallatin, stationed in Charleston, in 2012, under Petty Officer Second Class Omar Gomez.

Gomez is charged with sexual assault and related charges, after authorities said he raped a civilian and treated several women in the military inappropriately. One of the incidents happened in 2006, while the rest occurred in 2011 and 2012, authorities said.

The first witness served on the ship's deck under Gomez. During testimony, she said Gomez called her in to a first lieutenant's office and showed her his genitals. She also said he put his hand between her legs. However, she never reported the incidents because she "wasn't aware of who to talk to about it," she said.

The defense tried to show such occurrences were common on the ship, and not limited to its client.

"This is a culture on the Gallatin. Everyone participated in it," said defense attorney Lt. Katherine Shovlin, a member of the U.S. Navy's JAG Corps.

One of the defense's witnesses, a female who served on the ship, supported that theory. She said you would often see "girls smack girls on the butt and guys smack guys on the butt" aboard the Gallatin. The witness called everyone on the ship "like family."

Another female Coast Guard member who served on the Gallatin did say ribbing and sexual banter were common. The defense read a text message where the sailor referenced anal sex. She said they would joke back and forth, and that text "would've been a group thing."

She said she was one out of only a handful of female sailors aboard the Gallatin, which had a crew of about 160 people. That meant she often had to hear and participate in sexual banter and jokes.

"If I take it to heart, they'll do it more," she said.

But she said Gomez took it too far one day when he grabbed her breast and then touched her private parts over her pants.

"I felt it real quick and then I moved," she said. "I was annoyed."

She said it was the only time Gomez touched her inappropriately, but there was another time she felt he was about to violate her. She said she jolted her body to preempt him. She also saw him "flash" her once with his private parts.

That sailor testified no other males on the ship acted in such a manner.

She never reported the incidents, saying she "didn't want to draw attention to the situation." When another alleged victim came to her about Gomez, she felt she had to be honest, she said.

Another female witness testified she only decided to come forward after realizing the breadth of the situation.

"It affected more than me. It affected other girls," she said.

Gomez is charged with sexual assault, failure to obey a lawful order, cruelty and maltreatment, making a false official statement and general articles.

On Wednesday, the court listened to a portion of Gomez's interrogation with Coast Guard investigators. The interrogation took place about seven months after authorities said he raped a civilian female at a West Ashley apartment.

During that taped interrogation, the investigator told Gomez his chief had not reported the rape in order to protect the petty officer.

That chief was Steven Dixon, who said he retired from the Coast Guard on Dec. 1, 2013. He testified Thursday that he did report the rape to an executive officer. He said from there, he didn't "know what the command master did with it." He said he never got a report back.

Dixon received no formal reprimand regarding the incident, officials said. No other parties have been charged in the case, officials said.

Authorities also said Gomez took inappropriate photos of himself while aboard the ship. A woman testified Wednesday that he took her camera, put it down his pants and took photos of his genitals. She said she deleted them the next day.

The alleged incidents took place aboard Coast Guard Polar Star, based in Seattle, in 2006 and aboard the Gallatin, based in Charleston, in 2011 and 2012. Officials said the incidents occurred in Seattle, Charleston, Honduras, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

If convicted, Gomez could face discharge and more than 30 years in prison, officials said.