Blog / Tort Claims Act Law Blog / Sexual Assault Case Against Former Joint Chiefs Vice Chair

Sexual Assault Case Against Former Joint Chiefs Vice Chair

Disturbing Trend in Corrupt Government?

Michael Ehline, Sex Abuse Lawyer
During her employment at U.S. Strategic Command, a Former aide Army Col claims in a federal lawsuit that the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff repeatedly sexually assaulted her.
Ultimate Guide to Understanding Military Sexual Assault Example

The victim claims her military career was ruined when she refused his advances.

There has been a disturbing trend in public officials violating their oaths of office, such as Peter Strzok and other corrupt FBI officials. Now we have a sex abuse harassment case, I wanted to discuss, as this is something I saw a bit of during my time as an enlisted Marine.

The instant claims were made public by Spletstoser, Hyten’s assistant, when he served as the commander of U.S. Strategic Command in July 2019. This was just before he appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee for the position of vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as an Air Force Gen.

Her claims were upheld by the United States District Court for the Central District of California. The general appealed. But the Ninth Circuit ruled that the case can for forward here.

What is Sexual Assault?

Sexual assault occurs when another person intentionally, sexually touches another individual without that individuals’s consent, or by use of coercion (physically force leading to a sexual act against the will of another. Courts consider it a form of sexual violence.

Sexual assault includes:

  • Child sexual abuse

  • Groping

  • Rape (forced anal, oral, or vaginal penetration, including a drug induced sexual assault)

  • Initaited through sexual torture of the victim.

Below, I will discuss the facts and what you can do if you face similar hazing or other sexual contacts you never wanted. I will look at this through the eyes of a sex discrimination attorney amid record breaking spikes in corruption and whistleblower complaints.

Legal Gray Area?

Her lawsuit remains in a legal gray area and is probably ripe for some type of higher Court relief. The alleged victim sued the former general individually for the initial assault. She never made a direct claim against the U.S. military for [Our Defenders].

However, the U.S. Justice Department’s attorneys are representing Hyten. Their argument is that since the incident took place during prior military service, it falls under DOJ jurisdiction. So basically, the former General gets a free defense lawyer.

What Happened With the Alleged Sexual Assault?

Overall, Spletstoser made a number of accusations, one of which was that John Hyten, who retired from the Pentagon in November, touched her inappropriately in a hotel room while she was attending a significant military affairs conference in California. Her civil lawsuit is based on this allegation.

In a federal civil jury trial, Col. Kathryn A. Spletstoser is now requesting more than $5 million in damages, according to court filings submitted in California in late November. Prior to being confirmed as vice chairman, Air Force Gen. John Hyten’s confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill in July were overshadowed by Spletstoser’s allegations. At his hearing in July, Hyten strongly refuted Spletstoser’s claims, speaking out against the counts as outrageous.

What Are the Charges for the Sexual Assault?

According to Hyten, the charges for the sexual assault are untrue, and an Air Force inquiry published in August 2019 found no corroborating evidence for Spletstoser’s claims. As a result, he was cleared of all charges and administrative sanctions, and the Senate later confirmed the general’s nomination to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.


Later that year, the retired colonel sued John Hyten in civil court, requesting at least $100,000 in damages for mental, physical, and financial harm. She is basically saying the general retaliated against her for not giving it up, and harmed her chance at advancements, constructively terminating her military career. Hyten’s team filed an appeal after a Federal District Court [trial court] in the Central District of California decided that the case might go forward in October 2020.

Reason for Original Dismissal

A three-judge panel at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California was persuaded to dismiss the case by Lowell Sturgill Jr., an attorney for the Department of Justice who is representing John Hyten. The government claimed that the situation qualifies under the Feres doctrine because the alleged event happened when the general was visiting to discuss business while on a work trip. So that is how they got the suit dismissed originally.

What Is the Feres Doctrine? and How Was It Applied?

According to Feres, instances involving medical malpractice through the Defense Health Agency are the only exceptions to the rule that prohibits soldiers from suing the federal government for government negligence causing injuries sustained while serving in the military. It has evolved into Hyten’s main line of defense. The most common usage of it has been to prevent military service members from filing medical malpractice lawsuits.

What Did Feres Intend to Prevent?

A three-judge panel from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco decided that Feres, a 1950 Court decision intended to prevent troops from trying to sue over combat and training casualties, does not apply to sexual assault because the “alleged sexual assault [could] not conceivably serve any military purpose.”

What Did the Court Argue?

When it came to this case, it effectively meant that the government was arguing that the Supreme Court believes sexual assault was a necessary component of military service and that, as a result, civilian courts were unable to get involved. Feres required the District Court to deny [Spletstoser’s] request to second-guess the military’s disciplinary investigation and result.

The appeals court, on the other hand, agreed with the initial district court’s decision and stated that it “cannot fathom” how the alleged assault, in this case, could have ever been deemed an action “incident to [military] service.”

What About the Supreme Court?

He claimed that, because the decision was “so solid,” it may be “persuasive” in other circuits as well. It should now serve as a precedent for matters under the 9th Circuit’s jurisdiction. However, the Supreme Court would need to make a decision in order for it to become the law of the land.

Christensen predicted that the Justice Department would file an appeal with the Supreme Court, but he also saw the administration being worried about setting a precedent that would affect the whole nation. In any case, Thursday’s decision may serve as a precedent, enabling military sexual assault survivors to sue not only their assailants but the Defense Department as well.

When Did the Accusations Against the Joint Chiefs of Staff Start?

The sexual assault accusations against Hyten and service members were made public for the first time by Spletstoser in 2019, following his selection as the deputy chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

The Event

Spletstoser said there were numerous incidents of inappropriate kissing, hugs, and rubbing up against her while she served under Hyten at U.S. Strategic Command in 2017. Her claims were made first to Air Force and congressional investigators and then in a lawsuit filed in November 2019. In one instance, Spletstoser claims that Hyten visited her in her hotel room when they were attending a conference in California, kissed her, and then sexually assaulted her.

The Air Force Investigation

Hyten has categorically denied the charges, telling senators during his confirmation hearing to the Senate Armed Services Committee that “nothing happened, ever” and that “these allegations are false.”

What Was the Evidence?

An examination by the Air Force did not turn up any supporting evidence to charge Hyten. The Senate ultimately confirmed him as vice chairman after the investigation.

Spletstoser’s Belief

Spletstoser, however, has remained adamant about the validity of her claims and military sexual assault survivors, contending with her supporters that Hyten was not exonerated by the investigation. This is because it is not the responsibility of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations to determine guilt and the investigation was not wholly impartial because it was overseen by another general in a small group of Air Force four-stars.

Why Was There an Appeal in the First Place?

Essentially, Spletstoser initiated the civil complaint a few months after Hyten was confirmed, and it has been making its way through the federal court system ever since. Hyten and the government made attempts to have the case dismissed for lack of jurisdiction or relocated to Nebraska, where both of them were stationed at the time of the alleged assault, in the fall of 2020. Both attempts failed, which is why there was an appeal.

Christensen claimed that the 9th Circuit was “especially well suited” to accept the arguments put forth by Spletstoser’s legal team.

Court of Appeal’s Conclusion

The Appeals Court observed in its conclusion, which was made public on Thursday, that the Feres Doctrine was far from absolute and, in fact, demanded that certain specifics of Spletstoser’s claims be taken into account in their decision to find in her favor.

Don Christensen

Don Christensen, a retired Air Force Col, former chief prosecutor, and current president of a service member advocacy group, said that the Court “made it obvious that they don’t think sexual assault is ever going to be an incident to service” without stating so explicitly.

The Feres decision has at least one detractor at the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice Clarence Thomas. “At a minimum, we should take up this case to clarify the scope of the immunity we have created,” Thomas declared in his 2021 dissenting opinion, when the high Court decided against a former West Point cadet who sought damages for an alleged rape.

Contact Ehline Law Firm If You’ve Been Sexually Assaulted by Service Members | Justice Department Lawyers

Were you raped or assaulted in the Pentagon parking lot or on a military base and want legal advice? The criminal justice system in our country is in charge of putting anyone who sexually assaults another person behind bars. However, after sexual predators commit abusive acts against the victim, it is the civil justice system, not a criminal prosecution, that ensures you receive financial compensation for any medical emergency or medical expenditures.

Call Us

Speak to us now, and let’s seek justice for those who are incapable of handling sexual assault cases on their own due to emotional or physical challenges to a servicemember. Our charismatic, compassionate legal team wants to help victims litigate their sexual assault claim on the merits.


  • Military Times – Meghann Myers.

Downtown Los Angeles Corporate Offices

Downtown Los Angeles Office
633 West 5th Street #2890
Los Angeles, CA 90071
(213) 596-9642

Downtown Los Angeles Office
633 West 5th Street #2890
Los Angeles, CA 90071
(213) 596-9642
Navigation /More Locations.

© 2022 All rights reserved.
Ehline Law Firm Personal Injury Attorneys, APLC