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Army colonel files federal sexual assault lawsuit against vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

An Army colonel has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff sexually assaulted her multiple times while at U.S. Strategic Command.

Col. Kathryn A. Spletstoser is seeking more than $5 million in damages in a federal civil jury trial, according to court documents filed in late November in California.

Spletstoser’s allegations became a focal point of Air Force Gen. John Hyten’s confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill in July before he was confirmed as vice chairman.

During his July hearing, Hyten strenuously denied Spletstoser’s allegations.

“I am intensely aware of the allegations made against me concerning one of the most serious problems we have in the military, sexual assault. It has been a painful time for me and my family, but I want to state to you and to the American people in the strongest possible terms that these allegations are false,” Hyten said testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee.

A previous investigation concluded in June and released in August found that the Air Force Office of Special Investigations did not corroborate her allegations of sexual assault and an unprofessional relationship between Spletstoser and Hyten.

Former Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson testified on Hyten’s behalf during the hearing.

In her testimony she emphasized the thoroughness of the investigation. Allegations emerged while she was still serving as secretary and directed the investigation of the claims. She pointed to the 1,400 page investigation that included 53 investigators that interviewed 63 people, reviewing more than 196,000 emails, 4,000 pages of documents and 152 travel records.

“After all of this, I believe the Senate will come to the same conclusion I did: General Hyten was falsely accused and this matter should be set aside as you consider his nomination,” she testified.

At the time, Hyten was head of STRATCOM and awaiting a Senate confirmation vote for the vice chairman position.

Spletstoser alleged that between February 2017 and February 2018 Hyten touched her against her wishes multiple times, including non-consensual kissing and an instance in which he ejaculated.

A spokeswoman for Hyten told Military Times Friday that previous allegations had been subjected to a “comprehensive investigation and unsubstantiated.”

“We are aware of the lawsuit that was filed in California federal court. As is our practice in all on-going litigation, we are not going to comment on the details," Air Force Maj. Trisha Guillebeau wrote in an email.

“All previous allegations provided to the Department of Defense were subject to comprehensive investigation and unsubstantiated. The Senate conducted its own exhaustive, comprehensive review of the matter during Gen Hyten’s confirmation process to be Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. General Hyten’s confirmation by the Senate as Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff validates the trust that has been placed in him by our nation, our Department’s leadership and Congress,” Guillebeau wrote.

During the SASC hearing, Sen. Martha McSally, R-AZ, an Air Force veteran who publicly disclosed her own experience with sexual assault, also said that the “full truth was revealed in this process.”

“The truth is that General Hyten is innocent of these charges,” McSally said. “I pray the accuser gets the help she needs and finds the peace she is searching for, but it cannot be by destroying General Hyten with these false allegations.”

In the lawsuit, Spletstoser detailed many of the alleged acts, which often occurred when he asked her to meet him in his hotel room or to stay after work meetings. Most episodes included multiple, repeated touching, fondling, kissing and at least one encounter in which he ejaculated while touching her.

Despite her consistent rejections, the general continued the harassing behavior on separate occasions over the course of months, she alleged.

Former aide Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser sits in the audience as Gen. John Hyten appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 30, 2019, for his confirmation hearing to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
Former aide Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser sits in the audience as Gen. John Hyten appears before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 30, 2019, for his confirmation hearing to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

The colonel wrote detailed commentary about both the report and the alleged conduct, which was published in Air Force Times in late August.

In her commentary, Spletstoser said that Hyten not only sexually assaulted her but also retaliated against her professionally after she rebuffed his advances.

“Until I was sexually assaulted by Gen. Hyten, he ranked me as the number one of 71 colonels who worked for him in the command. Only after I rejected his sexual advances did he begin efforts to discredit me and embrace the narrative that I was a ‘toxic leader.’”

Spletstoser also questioned the general’s conduct during the investigation.

Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten, head of U.S. Strategic Command (left) and Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser (center) leave the Army Space and Missile Defense Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado on Nov. 14, 2017. Spletstoser has publicly accused Hyten of sexually assaulting her in a hotel room just a few weeks after this photo was taken. (Sgt. Zach Sheely/Army)
Air Force Gen. John E. Hyten, head of U.S. Strategic Command (left) and Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser (center) leave the Army Space and Missile Defense Command at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado on Nov. 14, 2017. Spletstoser has publicly accused Hyten of sexually assaulting her in a hotel room just a few weeks after this photo was taken. (Sgt. Zach Sheely/Army)

“The results show that he lied under oath and to investigators. During a wiretapped phone call, Gen. Hyten also conveyed chilling stalking behavior and made future threats, resulting in a Military Protective Order that prevented him from making contact with me. This is still in effect today,” she wrote.

Before much of the allegations went public, the Department of Defense Inspector General released the findings of another report in which Hyten had been accused of misusing military aircraft for personal reasons, allowing his spouse to travel on military aircraft for inappropriate reasons, misusing his personal service detail and his government cell phone.

The IG report did not substantiate those allegations in the investigation that was initiated in September 2018 and released in March 2019.

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