By David Alexander
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. Army sergeant who worked as a sexual assault prevention coordinator at Fort Hood, Texas, has been accused of sex crimes, the Pentagon said on Tuesday, the second man in the military's anti-sexual assault effort to be accused since last week.
News of the investigation sparked renewed anger and frustration over military's inability to deal quickly with its sexual assault problem. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel expressed disappointment over the "breakdown in discipline" implied by the allegations, and lawmakers voiced outrage.
"This is sickening," said Senator Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat. "Twice now, in a matter of as many weeks, we've seen the very people charged with protecting victims of sexual assault being charged as perpetrators."
Representative Buck McKeon, a Republican who heads the House Armed Services Committee, said he was "outraged and disgusted" by the reports and that the chain of command bore some responsibility regardless of whether it was "oblivious to or tolerant of criminal behavior."
The Army said a sergeant first class at Fort Hood, whose name was not released, was under investigation for allegations of pandering, abusive sexual contact, assault and maltreatment of subordinates.
The sergeant, a member of the Army's III Corps, had been assigned as a sexual assault response and prevention program coordinator with a battalion in the Corps, the Pentagon said. The Army suspended the sergeant from all duties after the allegations surfaced, it said.
No charges have been filed against the soldier at this time. The investigation of the allegations is being conducted by special agents from the Army's Criminal Investigation Command, the Pentagon said.
Pentagon spokesman George Little said Hagel was notified of the allegations on Tuesday morning by Army Secretary John McHugh. Hagel urged McHugh to ensure the allegations are investigated quickly and dealt with appropriately, he said.
"I cannot convey strongly enough his frustration, anger, and disappointment over these troubling allegations and the breakdown in discipline and standards they imply," Little said in a statement.
Little said the Army and the other military services were in the process of implementing Hagel's directive to re-train, re-credential and re-screen all sexual assault prevention and response personnel and military recruiters.
The investigation of the sergeant came just a week after the head of the Air Force's anti-sexual assault unit was arrested on charges of sexual battery after allegedly groping a woman in a parking lot in a restaurant district not far from the Pentagon.
Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Krusinski, 41, was suspended from his duties in the sexual assault response office, and his case is being handled by civilian authorities in Arlington, Virginia, who declined an offer from the military to prosecute the case.
Krusinski's arrest came a day before the Pentagon released its annual report on sexual assault in the military, a study that estimated the number of sex crimes involving military personnel soared by 37 percent to 26,000 in 2012, from 19,000 in 2011.
The crimes ranged from rape to abusive sexual contact.
The military's problem with sexual assault has prompted some lawmakers to call for the crime to be removed from the military chain of command so it can be handled by experts. But senior military officers contend the crimes should be handled through the chain of command to ensure commanders are held accountable for discipline.
(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)