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USMMA student’s request to return to Kings Point school is denied

The scene outside the entrance of the U.S.

The scene outside the entrance of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2017. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

A federal judge denied a request Thursday from a U.S. Merchant Marine Academy student suspended last month after an disciplinary hearing stemming from allegations of sexual assault that he be allowed to return permanently to the school and graduate with his class in June.

The student, referred to in court papers as “John Doe,” filed suit March 28 in the Eastern District court in Central Islip, seeking to be allowed to return to the Kings Point school this semester.

In the complaint, he said the accusations of sexual assault were false and alleged that the academy’s disciplinary hearing, held Feb. 9 and overseen by Rear Adm. James O. Helis, the school’s superintendent, violated his constitutional right to due process.

On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Bianco denied the midshipman’s request, saying in court during a telephone conference with attorneys for USMMA and the student that his right to due process had not been violated.

There was “substantial evidence” to support the superintendent’s decision, the judge said.

Gerald Lefcourt of Manhattan, the student’s attorney, did not respond to a request for comment.

Court papers filed previously said the midshipman was prohibited from returning to the school until the third term of the 2018-19 school year, scheduled for March 2019.

He was suspended on March 23. Earlier this month, Bianco had allowed him to resume classes for the time being.

The student was accused of sexually assaulting a woman who accompanied him in August to the annual Ring Dance, held in Manhattan. The woman was not a student at USMMA.

The academy investigated the incident and in January the student was called to a superintendent’s disciplinary hearing.

A Feb. 12 letter from Helis to the midshipman, included in the court documents, said Helis had determined “by a preponderance of evidence” that the midshipman had violated “Superintendent Instruction 2016-02,” the response policy on sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence and stalking “by sexually assaulting [name redacted] in a hotel room” in Manhattan in the hours after the Ring Dance.

The midshipman’s lawsuit named as defendants the academy; Helis; the U.S. Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction over USMMA; and the U.S. Maritime Administration, the agency within the department that operates the 75-year-old service academy.

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