A military appellate tribunal has overturned the 2017 sex crime conviction of a Navy officer after a court-martial trial that at times touched on the boozy underbelly of military nightlife in Rota, Spain.
In a split decision handed down on Sept. 5, the United States Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals tossed Lt. Cmdr. Cheveaux Dawkins’ abusive sexual contact convictions involving two women and dismissed with prejudice an attempted sexual assault specification.
The justices didn’t strike an indecent exposure charge for briefly exposing his penis during an evening interlude on a public beach.
Although Dawkins, 48, was sentenced two years ago to a dismissal from the military, that’s now on hold while the Navy officials consider how to respond to their legal defeat.
After a 28-year military career, a dismissal jeopardized a retirement pension worth an estimated $2.8 million.
The ruling is being analyzed by Navy’s Code 46, the Appellate Government Division, and attorneys there are mulling “whether to seek further review of this case,” Navy spokesman Lt. Samuel R. Boyle said in an email to Navy Times.
“No decision has yet been made. Timelines governing the United States’ decision are contained in the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the court rules for the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals, and Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces,” he added.
Dawkins’ civilian defense attorney, Tami Mitchell, hailed the victory.
“This decision gives our client a chance to honorably retire and preserve his benefits,” she said. "It is a tremendous win for our client and I could not be happier for him.”
If upheld, the appellate ruling also will remove Dawkins from Virginia’s registry for convicted sex offenders.
The case will go back to the trial court, where prosecutors can either dismiss it or try it again.
Larded with tawdry details, the case stemmed from a pair of 2016 incidents that allegedly occurred in Spain.
The first involved Dawkins and a civilian employee where he worked, the U.S. Naval Hospital in Rota. In the court documents, she’s identified only as “KL.”
During drinks with friends on March 26, 2016, KL texted the officer to tell him she was in the neighborhood. When her pals hopped to another bar, she and Dawkins followed them, but then they stopped in a doorway to chat and kiss and grope.
The woman’s pantyhose ended up at her knees, below her miniskirt. She took them off and put them in her purse and strolled with Dawkins to a nearby beach, where he continued kissing her from behind. Through her thong underwear, KL testified that she could feel his genitals against her.
But then she asked him to “not do that” and he stopped, according to her testimony.
They walked to a taxi stand to travel to her car, parted ways when they arrived at it. He later texted to make sure she made it home safely, which prompted her to message him “thanks.”
A petty officer saw them departing the beach and described them leaning into each other, laughing and talking.
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That interlude on a beach likely never would’ve made the military blotter, except for a dining-in costume party at the Hotel Duque de Najera the following weekend where “there was much drinking and revelry,” court records reveal.
While some members of the mess began to change into their themed attire, a woman identified only as “Lt. j.g. EA” began to feel sick. Dawkins escorted her to the ladies’ room, where she vomited twice.
One of Dawkins’ subordinates, a woman cloaked as “Lt. KC," entered a stall to change into her costume, speaking briefly with him before she left to attend to another sick officer in a different restroom.
When she returned, she claimed that Dawkins grabbed her breast with one hand and guided her palm to his buttock with the other.
The lieutenant testified that she then aided Lt. j.g. EA “for some time” — perhaps as long as 30 minutes — before returning to the party in the main event room.
There, her demeanor seemed to change from upbeat to “abrupt and very flat,” according to the court records.
She demanded that her friends leave with her.
Two days later, Lt. KC reported the alleged incident to her unit victim advocate and later to a Navy Victims’ Legal Counsel.
Dawkins was reassigned to an office in the same passageway as KL’s. KL then reported that Dawkins had assaulted her in the doorway and on the beach.
The move comes amid reports of a spike in sexual assaults in the ranks in recent years.
Reviewing the testimony, the appellate judges began punching holes in both cases against Dawkins.
To them, it seemed Dawkins had an “honest and reasonable belief that Ms KL was consenting to the sexual touching up until the point when she asked him ‘not to do it,’” and then he stopped, so there was no crime.
The allegation lodged by Lt. KC that Dawkins committed abusive sexual contact was trickier.
Although a lieutenant commander pal later testified that he received a text from Lt. KC on the night of the dining-in alleging Dawkins’ misconduct, both he and the lieutenant said they deleted their exchange, so that potential evidence inexplicably went missing.
When military prosecutors at the trial tried to construct a timeline of the evening’s events by calling witnesses at the mess night, they discovered that most of the officers “were intoxicated to some degree and their testimony is largely divergent regarding who was in the ladies’ room at important times during the night,” the appellate court determined.
Although Lt. KC testified that she brought her costume into the stall to change, a witness identified only as Lt. Cmdr. Strong swore that she brought the lieutenant’s bag to her at her request.
And although Strong swore she saw Lt. j.g. EA on the floor, Dawkins wasn’t even in the restroom.
Lt. j.g. EA recollected hearing voices inside the restroom and knew others were there but she couldn’t connect the words to any faces because she was trying to vomit in a toilet.
She recalled emerging from the stall to find a lieutenant commander — identified only by her last name, Snider — and a commander and a female civilian.
Lt. j.g. EA also remembered Lt. KC rubbing her back, but swore she never saw Dawkins assault the lieutenant, a perspective shared by most of the other witnesses.
For example, Lt. Cmdr. Snider testified that although she drank more than she “would normally drink” that evening, she recalled Lt. j.g. EA vomiting and later washing her face at the sink, with Dawkins rubbing her back until she announced “I feel fine now. It’s out.”
She couldn’t recollect an assault on Lt. KC.
The female civilian in the restroom also testified that she escorted Dawkins out while Lt. KC was still in there and never saw Dawkins touch her.
But a woman identified only as “Lt. VC” testified that she saw Dawkins “retract his hand back and smack the rear” of an unknown servicewoman.
Lt. VC said that she grabbed Dawkins, yelled “don’t do that” or “stop” before the room degenerated into “commotion,” with everyone yelling at him to leave.
But she also conceded that she’d consumed four to five glasses of wine during the shindig.
At trial, Dawkins’ defense team attacked Lt. KC’s credibility, asking why she and her friend allegedly deleted text messages after meeting with the Navy Victims’ Legal Counsel, especially when she should’ve known that the exchange was vital evidence.
They also raised questions about her motives, saying that KC was angry that Dawkins refused to support her requests for time off and to relocate to another clinic.
Before she accused him of a crime, he’d also counseled her for being disrespectful to another lieutenant commander, a person KC considered sexist.
An audit released last week casts doubt on whether the services are listening to victims.
Confronting a jumble of testimony from witnesses who appeared to have been inebriated during the dine-in, the appellate justices tried to ferret out what was believable.
The one thing that they knew with certainty was that multiple officers and a female civilian were in the restroom when Dawkins allegedly groped Lt. KC.
First, they turned to what they called Lt. VC’s “wholly incredible” story, which wasn’t corroborated by anyone in the room, including the alleged victim.
A month after the mess night, VC told Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents that she didn’t witness any wrongdoing in the restroom. But she later testified at trial “that a friend restored her memory about what happened,” according to the court records.
Writing for the majority, Senior Judge Col. Jonathan W. Hitesman, a Marine, said they gave her words “no weight.”
Then they pounced on KC’s testimony, which the majority found "unsupportable when explored through the crucible of cross-examination, the logical timeline, and the lack of corroboration by other equally credible witnesses,” Hitesman wrote.
But the ruling wasn’t unanimous.
In a brief dissent from a portion of the majority’s decision, Chief Judge Navy Capt. James R. Crisfield said there was enough evidence to convict Dawkins for abusive sexual contact against Lt. KC.