Cape Cod Army Soldier Accused of Groping at Vermont Training Camp

A Cape Cod soldier with the Massachusetts Army National Guard has been accused of groping another soldier at a Vermont training site.

Sgt. Jon Downing, a 33-year-old from the Hyannis section of Barnstable, is accused of inappropriately touching a female soldier he was supervising at Camp Ethan Allen in Jericho. The alleged incident happened Thursday while the soldiers had some down time after standing in formation, according to Vermont State Police.

Downing pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a charge of lewd and lascivious conduct.

The suspect and other members of his Massachusetts unit were at Camp Ethan Allen for specialized training, according to Detective Trooper Jacob Metayer of the Vermont State Police.

The facility houses a large firing range and routinely plays host to military training events.

Metayer wrote in documents filed with the Vermont Superior Court Criminal Division in Burlington that a commanding officer of the unit called Friday to tell police that a female soldier reported alleged misconduct from a Massachusetts Guard sergeant the previous day.

NBC Boston does not identify people who report being victims of sex crimes without their permission.

The woman told the investigator that in between drills, Sgt. Downing engaged in sexually-charged behavior that was "completely undesired and unwanted."

Court paperwork described the married woman, who also reported a history of dirty jokes from Downing, talking casually about the fabric on her uniform pants being soft and comfortable.

Police documents said another female soldier felt her colleague's cargo pocket briefly, but when Sgt. Downing touched his subordinate's pants, the woman said he also rubbed her leg, the inside of her thigh, her groin, belly button area, and hip.

He was smirking, she said, with eyebrows raised, telling her, "Oh it is very soft," which the woman thought was a remark about her body, not the fabric.

Before his formal not guilty plea in a Burlington courtroom Tuesday, Downing also denied the accusation in an interview with Detective Metayer.

According to court paperwork, during an interview with the investigator, Downing said he only touched the fabric of the pocket, not the woman's private area.

Downing told the officer he "did not think this incident was a big deal."

The Massachusetts National Guard released a written statement about the accusations, which said once the civilian criminal legal proceedings are complete, the Massachusetts National Guard can and will take appropriate action.

"The Massachusetts National Guard does not tolerate sexual assault," Lt. Col. James Sahady said in the statement. "The allegations against Sgt. Downing are serious and inconsistent with the values of the Massachusetts National Guard. We sympathize with the victim and are providing proper resources and assistance."

In police paperwork filed with the court, Detective Metayer also recounted a conversation with the other female soldier who was present for the alleged inappropriate touching.

That soldier told the investigating officer that she witnessed Downing's hand slide up the other woman's leg, but she could not be sure if his hand came in contact with the woman's genital area.

The Vermont National Guard said in a written statement that while this case does not involve any of its soldiers, it's still an issue it takes very seriously. In the statement, the Vermont Guard promised to help out in any way it can with the investigation.

Judge Dennis Pearson approved the release of Jon Downing on a handful of conditions, including that he not harass the soldier he allegedly touched inappropriately.

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