By Tabassum Zakaria and Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The case of a U.S. Air Force official who headed a sexual-assault prevention unit and was arrested for allegedly groping a woman will be handled in civilian court despite the military's request for jurisdiction, a prosecutor said on Tuesday.
Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Krusinski, 41, was arrested on Sunday and charged with sexual battery for allegedly grabbing a woman by the breasts and buttocks in a parking lot not far from the Pentagon. The police report said the victim fought off a drunken male as he tried to touch her again.
Theo Stamos, prosecutor for Arlington County, Virginia, said the military had requested jurisdiction of the case, but the county intended to keep it.
"Since this happened in a civilian setting, not military, it didn't make any sense to me that the military would prosecute this," she said in a phone interview. "We are perfectly capable of going forward."
Krusinski will be arraigned on Thursday, when he can enter a plea on a misdemeanor charge of sexual battery, which carries a penalty of up to 12 months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
It could not be determined whether Krusinski has obtained a lawyer, and Krusinski could not be reached for comment.
The arrest came as the U.S. military is under increased pressure to deal with the issue of sexual assault.
Krusinski joined the Air Force in 1994 and has held a series of personnel jobs. He was appointed chief of the Air Force sexual assault prevention and response branch in February, an Air Force spokeswoman said. He has been removed from that job pending the outcome of an investigation.
A new Pentagon report released on Tuesday said the reported cases of sexual assault rose to 3,374 in 2012 from 3,192 the previous year, but the Pentagon estimates that actual cases are considerably higher. Estimated cases of unwanted sexual contact in 2012 were 26,000, compared with 19,000 in 2011.
Krusinski, as chief of the Air Force sexual assault prevention and response branch, headed an office of about five people that oversaw education programs and training and helped draft policy, Lieutenant Colonel Laurel Tingley, an Air Force spokeswoman, said.
He arrived at the Pentagon in July 2010 from MacDill Air Force Base in Florida where he was a force support squadron commander, she said.
Air Force Chief of Staff General Mark Welsh told a congressional hearing that a force support squadron includes sexual assault coordination counselors.
"He's been around the business his entire career as a personnel officer," Welsh said. "His record is very good."
Under pointed questioning by Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, Welsh said he had looked at Krusinski's performance record and spoken to his current supervisor, but not to people who knew him in the past.
"There is no indication his professional record or performance or in his current work place that there's any type of a problem like this," Welsh said.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)