Other Free Encyclopedias » Law Library - American Law and Legal Information » Notable Trials and Court Cases - 1989 to 1994 » Paula Coughlin v. the Las Vegas Hilton: 1994 - The President Is Briefed On The Situation, Report Cites 90 Victims, Coughlin Sues Hilton

Paula Coughlin v. the Las Vegas Hilton: 1994 - Report Cites 90 Victims

admiral kelso trial vest

The 90 victims of assault included 7 servicemen, 49 civilian women, 22 servicewomen, 6 government employees, and the wives of 6 conventioneers. According to the report, misbehavior was traditional in "a type of 'free-fire zone'" at the convention, with the fliers acting "indiscriminately and without fear of censure or retribution in matters of sexual conduct and drunkenness." Furthermore, it noted, previous conventions and the triumphs of the Persian Gulf War earlier in 1991 had set up a sort of "can top this" atmosphere at the convention.

The Navy temporarily reassigned six senior officers (all captains and commanders) to desk duty ashore, but it took no disciplinary action against them, while Vice Admiral J. Paul Reason, commander of the Atlantic surface fleet, reviewed the report. A week later, the admiral docked $1,000 from the pay of each of 10 officers—1 lieutenant commander, 2 junior-grade lieutenants, and 7 lieutenants—and gave them letters of admonition.

In a pre-trial hearing in a Marine courtroom in Quantico, Virginia, on August 17, 1993, Lieutenant Coughlin faced Captain Gregory Bonam, the pilot she had recognized, both from a photograph and in a lineup, as her chief molester in the gauntlet. Bonam's lawyer produced a photograph, purportedly snapped the night of the gauntlet, that showed him wearing not the burnt orange T-shirt that Coughlin had sworn she saw him in but a shirt with green and black stripes. No witness testified as to when the picture was taken. Character witnesses backed him as "very moral" and a "very good person." The Marine judge saw no need for a trial.

Six months later, in February 1994, after examining 140 cases of misconduct, the Navy closed the investigation of Tailhook. After a pre-trial hearing, Captain William T. Vest, Jr., a Navy judge, ruled that Admiral Kelso had used his influence as Chief of Naval Operations "in a manner designed to shield his personal involvement in Tailhook." Under oath, the admiral and three of his aides had testified that he did not witness the gauntlet assaults and that he was nowhere near them. But, said Vest, testimony of more than a dozen witnesses proved that the admiral—despite his denial—was present at some of Tailhook's wildest parties and made no effort to stop the sexual assaults. Furthermore, Vest added, Tailhook's reputation for including prostitutes, strippers, porn films, and plenty of alcohol in its festivities should have alerted the admiral that there might be trouble. Having put the blame on Admiral Kelso's shoulders, Vest concluded that charges against three of Kelso's subordinates should be dropped. Since Kelso's retirement was imminent further action was not taken. No trial followed the pre-trial hearing.

The U.S. Senate has the responsibility of approving the retirement rank and pensions of top military officers. By law, Admiral Kelso was entitled to retire with a two-star rank and a $67,000 annual pension. But, following tradition, the Senate's Armed Services Committee voted him four stars and $81,000 a year. For the full Senate's vote on April 19, nine Congresswomen, led by Representative Pat Schroeder (D-Colo.), marched onto the Senate floor to join the seven female Senators (five Democrats and two Republicans) who opposed the committee's recommendation. The vote was 54-43 in favor of Kelso.

Paula Coughlin v. the Las Vegas Hilton: 1994 - Coughlin Sues Hilton [next] [back] Paula Coughlin v. the Las Vegas Hilton: 1994 - The President Is Briefed On The Situation

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