Pentagon's sexual-assault prevention chief steps down
WASHINGTON — The director of the Pentagon's sexual assault prevention efforts is retiring, closing a year in which estimates of sexual misconduct spiked and he was implicated in an effort to cover up abuse at a hospital in Afghanistan.
Army Maj. Gen. Gary Patton has led the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. His office was responsible for the study this spring that estimated there were 26,000 instances of unwanted sexual contact in the military in 2012, an increase of more than a third compared with 2010.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon's inspector general announced this fall that it had determined Patton and his boss, Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, had improperly tried to hinder the staff at their training command in Afghanistan in 2011 from talking to investigators about poor conditions at a hospital there.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel praised Patton, who led troops in combat in Iraq, in announcing his retirement.
“He has a history of tackling tough assignments, and I want to thank him for the transparency, energy, persistence and strong leadership he has brought to the department's sexual assault prevention and response program over these past 18 months,” Hagel said in a statement.
Patton will be replaced by Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow next month.
Patton declined to comment on his retirement.
Advocates for sexual assault victims and whistle-blowers said his departure was overdue.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has led an effort to overhaul the military's judicial system to deal with the sexual-assault crisis. She questioned Patton's fitness for the job.
“There are serious questions about Gen. Patton's conduct involving blocking an independent investigation, so I am concerned this decision is more about avoiding getting to the bottom of what happened in that case,” Gillibrand said in a statement.
Danielle Bryan, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said Patton was the wrong choice for the job.
“Patton was not the right person to lead this important program, and his retirement is the first step in restoring credibility to the Pentagon's promise of reducing sexual assaults in the military,” she said.