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Admiral Denies Tipping Tailhook Group About Aide’s Gantlet Groping Claim

September 22, 1994

LAS VEGAS (AP) _ In videotaped testimony heard Wednesday, a Navy admiral denied tipping off the Tailhook Association about his aide’s report of sexual harassment at its convention.

Instead, Adm. Jack Snyder said, he sought justice for then-Lt. Paula Coughlin and tried to shield her from retribution within the military’s ″male society.″

Snyder denied discussing the attack with an employee of the aviators group at breakfast during the 1991 convention, contending Coughlin didn’t tell him about the assault until 12 days after it happened.

Heidi Benson, a convention organizer, testified Tuesday in a written deposition that Snyder told her about the attack the morning of Sept. 8, 1991, and said something needed to be done about it. The assault came Sept. 7, 1991.

Coughlin’s report about the drunken lechery of Navy and Marine aviators at the convention ignited a firestorm of controversy that rocked the naval establishment. Some 90 women claim they also were sexually abused at the convention at the Las Vegas Hilton.

Coughlin, who reached a settlement with the Tailhook Association, is suing the hotel for unspecified damages, alleging it lacked proper security. A dozen other lawsuits are pending.

Many of the women who filed complaints said they were groped and fondled as they were forced down a gantlet of aviators who packed a hallway.

Snyder said he was ″furious″ about the attack, but initially didn’t consider it a sexual assault.

″I looked upon it as an incident, and in retrospect an assault, and in further retrospect sexual assault,″ he said.

Snyder said he tried to come up with a course of action to protect Coughlin, adding that he was concerned because ″naval aviation has been, because of the laws of our country against women in combat, a male society.″

A promising helicopter pilot who wanted to fly jets, Coughlin resigned from the Navy in February, citing ″covert attacks″ and other pressure from the case.

In other testimony, Lt. Cmdr. Dennis Dilucente said in a deposition that women were urged to bare their breasts as they walked along a crowded third- floor hallway at the convention. He said he didn’t see any women ″screaming for help″ or being touched against their will.

Cmdr. James Usbeck said in a deposition he asked a security guard at one point if more help was needed to control the Tailhook crowd. The guard didn’t answer, Usbeck said, because at that moment an 18-year-old woman’s clothes went flying through the air.

Previously, people testified a drunk teen-ager was found semi-nude on the hallway floor.

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