Naval Academy strengthens instructor screening after Marine is accused of sex with female midshipman

Maj. Michael Pretus
Maj. Michael Pretus

Naval Academy strengthens instructor screening after Marine is accused of sex with female midshipman

by: John W. Cox | .
The Washington Post | .
published: September 13, 2016

The U.S. Naval Academy's superintendent announced Monday that the school will correct a flaw in its vetting process that allowed a Marine Corps officer to teach there after he had been investigated for having sex with a female midshipman.

In June, The Washington Post revealed that Maj. Michael Pretus became an instructor not only because of a communication failure among military leaders, but also because of a systemic defect in the way the Naval Academy screens dozens of its staffers.

The military did vet Pretus when he was selected in 2012 to get an advanced degree in history that would prepare him to teach. But the Iraq War veteran faced a crisis during the two years and eight months between when he received the news and when he was scheduled to start working in Annapolis.

A former female midshipman told authorities that while attending the academy in 2011, she had a threesome with him and another Marine, Maj. Mark Thompson, who taught history and was later convicted of sexual misconduct. Her accusation against Pretus triggered a criminal investigation that, according to military records, ended only after he refused to cooperate.

Despite the inquiry, he became an instructor at Annapolis in August 2014. It wasn't until The Washington Post wrote about Thompson's case that academy leaders learned about the allegations against Pretus, who was removed from his position in April.

The school will now re-screen staffers after they've completed their advanced degrees and before they arrive on campus.

"It's a very unique privilege to come teach at the U.S. Naval Academy. ... We want to make sure we're getting what's been advertised," Vice Admiral Walter E. Carter Jr. told the Post after announcing the change in protocol to the school's Board of Visitors, an oversight group that includes nine members of Congress.

"I think they're doing exactly the right thing," said Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., the board's chairman.

He and Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, said they had heard both from fellow lawmakers and academy graduates who were concerned about the revelations.

The lawmakers praised Carter's decision to act and his transparency with them throughout the process.

As of June, 28 of the academy's current faculty members, including 22 Marines, had arrived on campus the same way Pretus and many others have since the advanced-degree program was launched in 2006, the school said at the time. They were selected to get a master's degree and then given two to three years to attend a college and move to Annapolis to work in the classroom. Though the military rigorously inspects their service records during the initial selection process, the academy acknowledged that they weren't formally vetted again before being given positions of authority over midshipmen.

This meant that, as in Pretus's case, the academy may have never learned about serious issues that could arise during the years while officers were earning their degrees.

The re-screening will reduce that risk.

The Air Force Academy does not have an advanced-degree program comparable to that of the Naval Academy, but the Military Academy does. Thousands of Army officers have joined the school's staff through it, although West Point also doesn't scrutinize service members a second time.