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WASHINGTON (AP) — A retired Army colonel has reached a court settlement of nearly $1 million in a sexual assault lawsuit against Air Force Gen. John Hyten, who served as vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
The settlement with the U.S. government ends more than four years of investigations, reviews and congressional digging into the matter, which delayed — but ultimately did not defeat — Hyten's nomination for vice chairman in 2019. He served two years and did not seek a second term.
Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser, who served as Hyten's aide in 2017, filed the lawsuit, and in the settlement reached in U.S. District Court in California on Wednesday, the federal government will pay her $975,000.
“It is my sincere hope that the successful outcome in my case will embolden other survivors of military sexual violence to come forward — no matter how high ranking the perpetrator,” she said in a statement Thursday.
In an interview with The Associated Press in 2019, Spletstoser said Hyten subjected her to a series of unwanted sexual advances by kissing, hugging and rubbing up against her in 2017 while she was one of his top aides. She said she repeatedly pushed him away and told him to stop, and that he tried to derail her military career after she rebuffed him.
Hyten vigorously denied her allegations during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing in July 2019, with his wife seated behind him and Spletstoser looking on from a short distance away. An internal Air Force investigation determined there was insufficient evidence to charge him or recommend discipline. And a senior Air Force official said at the time that investigators also found no evidence Spletstoser was lying. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss personnel matters.
It is not uncommon for the U.S. government to pay out large sums of money to settle lawsuits, but a sexual assault case against such a high ranking military officer is far more rare.
The number of reported sexual assaults in the military has increased nearly every year since 2006. And while the services have made inroads in making it easier and safer for service members to come forward, it still remains a highly unreported crime.
Hyten's nomination was delayed for months while senators pored over thousands of pages of documents and interviewed the general and Spletstoser. The eventual Senate vote of 75-22 to confirm him reflected a bit more opposition than most military nominations, which usually get near-unanimous support.
Ten of the “no” votes came from female senators, including Vice President Kamala Harris, who was then a senator from California, and Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa, a survivor of sexual assault while in college and the only Republican to vote against him.
Spletstoser's attorney, Ariel Solomon, said in a statement Thursday that the legal payout “stands out as the only known settlement paid by the government for a sexual assault case brought against a member of the United States military.”
____ Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.