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Sexual battery charge dropped for military officer

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, who led the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response unit, is surrounded by members of the media while leaving the Arlington County General District Court, Thursday, July 18, 2013 in Arlington, Va. Krusinski, who is accused of groping a woman in a Crystal City parking lot, had a scheduled trial on a charge of misdemeanor sexual battery, but Virginia prosecutors have dropped a sexual battery charge against him and substituted with a generic assault charge.(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, who led the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response unit, is surrounded by members of the media while leaving the Arlington County General District Court, Thursday, July 18, 2013 in Arlington, Va. Krusinski, who is accused of groping a woman in a Crystal City parking lot, had a scheduled trial on a charge of misdemeanor sexual battery, but Virginia prosecutors have dropped a sexual battery charge against him and substituted with a generic assault charge.(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, who led the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response unit, is seen leaving the Arlington County General District Court, Thursday, July 18, 2013 in Arlington, Va. Krusinski, who is accused of groping a woman in a Crystal City parking lot, had a scheduled trial on a charge of misdemeanor sexual battery, but Virginia prosecutors have dropped a sexual battery charge against him and substituted with a generic assault charge. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, who led the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response unit, is surrounded by members of the media while leaving the Arlington County General District Court, Thursday, July 18, 2013 in Arlington, Va. Krusinski, who is accused of groping a woman in a Crystal City parking lot, had a scheduled trial on a charge of misdemeanor sexual battery, but Virginia prosecutors have dropped a sexual battery charge against him and substituted with a generic assault charge.(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, center, who led the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response unit, is seen leaving the Arlington County General District Court, Thursday, July 18, 2013 in Arlington, Va. Krusinski, who is accused of groping a woman in a Crystal City parking lot, had a scheduled trial on a charge of misdemeanor sexual battery, but Virginia prosecutors have dropped a sexual battery charge against him and substituted with a generic assault charge.(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Defense attorney Barry Coburn for Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, speaks to members of the media outside the Arlington County General District Court, Thursday, July 18, 2013 in Arlington, Va. Krusinski, who led the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response unit, is accused of groping a woman in a Crystal City parking lot, had a scheduled trial on a charge of misdemeanor sexual battery, but Virginia prosecutors have dropped a sexual battery charge against him and substituted with a generic assault charge.(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

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ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — Virginia prosecutors on Thursday dropped a sexual battery charge against an Air Force officer who once led that branch’s sexual assault response unit.

Right before the misdemeanor trial was set to begin against Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, 41, of Arlington, Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos said the sexual battery charge will be dropped and substituted with a generic assault charge. That trial will go forward at a later date.

Stamos said after the hearing that charging Krusinski with a sex offense was no longer appropriate now that her office has a more thorough understanding of the facts of what happened May 5, when Krusinski was accused of groping a woman in a Crystal City parking lot.

Krusinski was removed from his post as director of the Air Force’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program after his arrest. He did not speak at Thursday’s hearing, and he ignored reporters’ questions leaving the courthouse. His defense attorney, Barry Coburn, commended prosecutors for a “careful, deliberative review” of the case.

The assault charge Krusinski now faces is, like the sexual battery charge, a Class 1 misdemeanor under Virginia law, and Coburn said he will plead not guilty. Though both charges carry a possible punishment of up to a year in jail, Coburn said the change is significant because the only reason the case had become noteworthy is that Krusinski, while holding an office dedicate to preventing sexual assaults, had been charged with a sex offense.

“His name and photograph were in virtually every newspaper in the country for these reasons,” Coburn said in a statement. “This sequence of events hopefully will, in the future, give all of us … pause before we make premature judgments about pending criminal cases before trial, particularly cases involving individuals who have devoted their entire professional lives to military service.”

Neither Stamos nor Coburn commented on the exact nature of any alleged physical contact between Krusinski and the woman who filed charges. Initially police had said that Krusinski approached the woman in a parking lot and grabbed her breasts and buttocks.

Air Force spokeswoman Lt. Col. Laurel Tingley said the military branch would not comment on whether Arlington County had made an appropriate decision on dropping the sexual battery charge until it could review the facts that led to the decision.

Tingley said Krusinski is currently assigned to a personnel office and that the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program has been reorganized recently in a way that Krusinski’s former position no longer exists.

The charges against Krusinski helped launch a firestorm of criticism for the military’s handling of sexual assaults. Shortly after Krusinski’s arrest, a Pentagon report concluded that sexual assaults in the military are a growing epidemic. Also after Krusinski’s arrests, soldiers who managed sexual assault response programs at Fort Campbell and Fort Hood were charged with sex-related offenses.

Associated Press