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Ex-head of Air Force sex assault unit acquitted of groping woman

ARLINGTON, Virginia (Reuters) - A jury acquitted on misdemeanor assault and battery charges a U.S. officer accused of groping a woman while he was head of the Air Force's sexual assault prevention in a case that embarrassed the Pentagon last May.

Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Krusinski smiled slightly and spoke with his attorney after the verdict was returned on Wednesday by the jury of five men and two women in the two-day trial in Arlington County Circuit Court. Jurors deliberated for just over an hour.

Krusinski did not speak with reporters afterward.

Police have said Krusinski was drunk when he approached a woman in a parking lot near the Defense Department headquarters in May. The woman testified on Tuesday that Krusinski grabbed her buttocks and breasts in an unprovoked attack, prompting her to defend herself.

On Wednesday, restaurant worker Rene Miranda, who saw part of the confrontation from the window of a nearby bar where he was relaxing with friends, testified for the defense that he looked outside and saw a woman hit a man with a cell phone and the man did not respond with violence.

Krusinski was the head of the Air Force's sexual assault prevention and response branch, and his arrest took place the same week that the Pentagon reported that unwanted sexual contact complaints jumped 37 percent last year.

Prosecutor Theo Stamos said it was a coincidence that the case against Krusinski came at a time when Congress was considering harsher penalties for military personnel convicted of sexual harassment or assault.

"The jury has spoken and that's how it goes," Stamos said.

Krusinski was originally accused of sexual battery, but prosecutors revised the charge to assault and battery in July, saying it was more appropriate.

Krusinski had faced the possibility of a year in jail, a $2,500 fine and discharge from the Air Force if he was convicted. After he was charged, he was moved to another military personnel job.

(Reporting by Tom Ramstack; Editing by Ian Simpson)

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