Updated at: 02/20/2013 5:08 PM
By ROXANA HEGEMAN
(AP) WICHITA, Kan. - A former cadet leader at an embattled Kansas military school has been charged with eight counts of aggravated sexual battery, the county attorney’s office said Wednesday.
The charges against David James Burke, 18, of McLean, Va., were filed under seal last Friday pending his first court appearance on Thursday, assuming the Saline County courthouse is not closed amid a major snow storm, said Connie Cline, office manager for the Saline County attorney’s office.
The case stems from alleged sexual assaults that occurred in October at St. John’s Military School. Police have said Burke sexually assaulted a younger cadet at the school but have provided no details, and the school has said Burke was formerly a cadet leader who is now under suspension.
Defense attorney Dick Blackwell, said Wednesday that his client initially bonded out of jail on a single misdemeanor count of sexual battery and he did not know what new evidence has surfaced that would make the prosecutor’s office enhance those charges to felonies.
"He is certainly denying anything in the way of a felony happened," Blackwell said in a phone interview.
The latest allegations come as St. John’s fights a federal lawsuit filed by 11 former cadets and their families against the boarding school. The students contend the school’s quasi-military cadet program, which gives higher-ranking cadets the power to discipline students, encourages physical and mental abuse. The plaintiffs _ who hail from California, Florida, Tennessee, Colorado, Texas and Illinois _ filed the lawsuit in March.
St. John’s has denied a culture of abuse exists at the school and has vowed to fight the lawsuit. The allegations involved in the criminal case are not part of that ongoing civil lawsuit.
When the allegations against Burke surfaced, the school launched an internal investigation and notified Salina police and state authorities, St. John’s President Andy England. Following his arrest, the cadet was removed from all leadership responsibilities and was isolated from the alleged victim while the school made arrangements to send him home to his parents.
"Because the safety and welfare of our cadets is paramount, St. John’s, as a private school, does background reviews of all cadets that are more thorough that public high schools," England said in an email Wednesday. "There was nothing in the background of Mr. Burke when he arrived two years ago as a 16-year-old, or in the interim, to indicate anything like the charges now being brought against him."
The school has provided professional counseling and spiritual guidance to the alleged victim, other cadets, and staff, England said.
Burke was expected to fly back into Kansas Wednesday for the upcoming hearing in Salina.
His defense attorney said that based on his conversations with people who know Burke and from his own interactions with him, "he seems like a decent young man."
Burke will have to post a new bond and abide by any travel or other restrictions the judge imposes during his first court appearance. Such hearings in Kansas are usually brief, with no plea entered until after a subsequent preliminary hearing and arraignment.
"I have talked to the young man twice face-to-face, but until he actually makes a court appearance and I see the charges, I am not going to sit down with him and ask him what his side of the story is," Blackwell said. "I talked to his father, talked to some of the people I knew from the school, and including him, and there was nothing that would have amounted to a felony."
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)