Former Kansas cadet leader faces felonies

A former cadet leader at a Salina 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 Friday pending his first court appearance Thursday, assuming the Saline County courthouse is not closed by the snowstorm.

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.

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 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.

The latest allegations come as St. John’s fights a federal lawsuit filed by 11 former cadets and their families. 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.

St. John’s has denied that a culture of abuse exists and has vowed to fight the lawsuit. The allegations in the criminal case are not part of that civil suit.

When the allegations against Burke surfaced, the school launched an internal investigation and notified city and state authorities, said St. John’s president Andy England. After his arrest, the cadet was removed from all leadership responsibilities and was isolated from the alleged victim while the school arranged to send him home.

“Because the safety and welfare of our cadets is paramount,” England said in an email Wednesday, St. John’s does thorough background reviews of cadets.

“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,” England said.