Alleged victim testifies in sex assault trial for Guardsman
By Stacy Jacobsonsjacobson@abcnews4.com
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Testimony in the court martial for a Coast Guardsman charged with sexual assault and other charges began Tuesday.
Authorities have accused Petty Officer 2nd Class Omar Gomez of sexually assaulting or mistreating eight victims, six of whom were fellow members in the Coast Guard.
Proceedings began with the government and the defense's opening statements. The government told the jury the evidence would show Gomez is a sexual predator.
"He sexually assaulted or maltreated more than a dozen women," said Lt. Bryan Tiley, representing the U.S. Government.
Tiley also told the panel members that they would hear testimony from the sexual assault victim, who said she had never met the accused prior to the incident.
In the defense's opening statement, it represented Gomez as a man who had several casual friendships with women that may have turned sexual. Attorney Richard Morris called one a "close, unique relationship between co-workers and friends." He argued Gomez often engaged in "sexual horseplay" with some of the accusers and perceived such actions as consensual.
Morris also questioned the idea that the accuser could only identify his client by the shape of his head, rather than his face.
The first witness to take the stand was allegedly sexually assaulted by Gomez in 2012. She said she went to sleep next to her boyfriend, but woke up in the middle of the night to the feeling of pressure inside her body. When she came to her senses, she realized she was being raped, she said.
She said she felt "paralyzed," and though she tried to "fight back," she was not able to reach for her boyfriend or remove the man on top of her, she said.
The next day, the accuser was able to identify Gomez in his Facebook picture by the shape of his head, she said.
She did not report the assault in order to protect her family, she said. She believed her father would do something irrational if he found out, she said.
A psychologist testified the accuser's actions and version of the events were consistent with other victims of sexual assault.
The government also brought the accuser's boyfriend and roommates as witnesses. The boyfriend testified the accuser said Gomez raped her before she ever saw his Facebook photo.
The sixth witness was a friend and fellow Coast Guardsman who said he was with Gomez the night of the alleged rape. The two men had been at the accuser's apartment for a party and fell asleep on couches there, he said. The friend testified that Gomez woke him up at 3 a.m. and said they needed to leave.
But before they left, the friend said Gomez disappeared in to a room for about 10 minutes.
The defense pointed out such testimony was contrary to what the friend told in prior grand jury testimony, when he said he never went to the apartment and didn't remember anything. The defense indicated the friend had something to hide.
The last witness was U.S. Coast Guard investigator Douglas Patterson. Patterson interviewed Gomez during the investigation and also supervised a separate interrogation. Patterson testified that Gomez admitted to "[having] sex with a faceless female." Patterson also said Gomez told investigators he would slap on women's [butts], punch them in the breasts and even offered to kick one woman down the stairs to induce an abortion.
Gomez's attorney told the court certain interrogation methods had forced her client in to saying such answers. Court ended when the judge ordered the government prepare a five-hour audio CD of the interrogation to play for the court Wednesday.
Gomez is charged with sexual assault, failure to obey a lawful order, cruelty and maltreatment, making a false official statement and general articles.
Authorities also said Gomez took inappropriate photos of himself while aboard the ship.
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.
The defense on Monday asked each potential juror if they thought the military had a "sexual assault problem." The responses were varied, but the officers made it clear the topic was often discussed amongst members of the military.