Navy SEAL officer claims innocence in sexual assault charge

The fourth Navy SEAL this year has been charged with sex crimes, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune, and a Navy indictment filed against SEAL Lt. Joseph Benevento.

The Navy charges Benevento with sexual assault following an incident in San Diego, Calif. On November 6, 2016. The indictment was filed on June 29. According to the Navy, Benevento twice broke military law (the Uniform Code of Military Justice, UCMJ) when he allegedly placed an identified woman on a bed, removed her pants and had sex with her without her. consent.

The court proceedings have so far been characterized as “preliminary” because Benevento has not been placed in Article 32 proceedings, which is the military equivalent of a civilian grand jury hearing. Benevento’s criminal defense attorney Michael Waddington insisted Benevento was innocent and said “this case has been investigated by local authorities and they have refused to prosecute”, according to the Union-Tribune. Waddington called the Navy debates a “witch hunt.”

Benevento is a graduate of the University of Florida, 33, and has not yet been arrested or detained. According to Navy records and the Union-Tribune, he enlisted in the Navy in 2006 and served in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

The other three SEALs accused of sex crimes in 2017 include SEAL Team One Petty Officer 1st Class (PO1) Gregory K. Seerden, accused of having filmed himself assaulting a child, SEAL Team Five Petty Officer 2nd Class (PO2) Kyle Irving, who faces court martial for allegedly raping a woman in San Diego in 2015, and Chief Petty Officer (CPO) Stephane Varanko, charged with kidnapping and raping another sailor in a hotel room near Fort Knox, KY.

Seerden faces one count of child pornography production, two counts of transporting child pornography and one count of possession of child pornography. He pleaded not guilty to the charges. Irving is accused of trapping a woman’s hands behind her head and wrists before sexually assaulting her. Varanko is charged with four counts of rape, four counts of sexual assault and one count of aggravated bodily harm.

The SEAL community doesn’t seem to be able to take a break from the bad press in recent months, between these allegations of sex crimes, infighting within the community and various allegations of retaliation from whistleblowers and even war crimes. We continue to hope that the Naval Special Warfare will emerge from these dark clouds and that the actions of these men will not permanently tarnish the reputation of one of the elite fighting units in the country.

(Featured image of the SEAL 5 team conducting a training courtesy of Wikipedia.)

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