WASHINGTON -- A sergeant first class on the staff of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point has been accused of recording video of female cadets without their consent, sometimes when they were undressed in the bathroom or the shower, according to Army officials.
The Army is contacting about a dozen women to alert them that their privacy may have been violated by the suspect, identified as Sgt. 1st Class Michael McClendon, and to offer support or counseling as required, officials said.
The allegations at West Point, the nation's oldest and most prestigious military academy, come amid growing outrage in Congress, at the Pentagon and from President Barack Obama over reports of sexual harassment and assault in the armed forces. They also come as the Army has begun integrating women into a number of combat positions, bringing added demands for fair and equal treatment of those in uniform.
The revelations are especially startling at West Point, which has had problems with sexual assault but also has many progressive faculty members and prides itself on having an environment of discipline and respect. Women have been enrolled at the 2-century-old institution, on a commanding bank of the Hudson River in upstate New York, for nearly 40 years.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who is to deliver West Point's commencement address Saturday, was briefed on the case Wednesday morning. Pentagon officials described him as "concerned and disturbed" by the allegations.
Sgt. McClendon, of Blakely, Ga., faces charges under four articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, for indecent acts, dereliction in the performance of duty, cruelty and maltreatment, and actions prejudicial to good order and discipline. Sgt. McClendon, who had been assigned to the academy since 2009, was transferred to Fort Drum, N.Y., before charges were filed May 14, Army officials said.
During his West Point tenure, Sgt. McClendon served as a tactical noncommissioned officer, a position described in academy personnel documents as a staff adviser "responsible for the health, welfare and discipline" of a company of 125 cadets. The person in the position is expected to "assist each cadet in balancing and integrating the requirements of physical, military, academic and moral-ethical programs."
The West Point student body numbers about 4,500 cadets. Slightly more than 15 percent are female, and senior Army officials pledged immediate action to try to regain their trust.
"The Army is committed to ensuring the safety and welfare of our cadets at the Military Academy at West Point -- as well as all soldiers throughout our Army," Gen. John Campbell, the Army vice chief of staff, said Wednesday. "Once notified of the violation, a full investigation was launched, followed by swift action to correct the problem. Our cadets must be confident that issues such as these are handled quickly and decisively, and that our system will hold those responsible accountable."
Officials said some videos were taken in the showers or bathrooms, and some elsewhere on campus. Documents in the case indicate that, in some instances, Sgt. McClendon entered women's bathroom and shower areas without knocking.