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SLDN Calls on Navy Secretary to Hold Senior Chief Petty Officer Accountable for Abusing Gay Sailor

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: July 6, 2010
Trevor Thomas: (616) 430-2030 or trevor@sldn.org
Paul DeMiglio: (202) 621-5408 or pdemiglio@sldn.org

SLDN Calls on Navy Secretary to Hold Senior Chief Petty Officer Accountable for Abusing Gay Sailor
Navy promoted accused despite investigation findings; board recently recommended he receive full retirement benefits

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), a national, legal services and policy organization dedicated to ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT), released a letter today sent to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus demanding that Senior Chief Petty Officer Michael Toussaint – found by a Navy investigation to have abused former Navy Petty Officer Joseph Rocha – be given a discharge characterization that reflects his dishonorable service record.

“Although Toussaint was Rocha’s primary tormenter, the Navy promoted Toussaint after he engaged in the abuses detailed in the Command Investigation,” said Aaron Tax, legal director for Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, in a letter to the Navy Secretary. “These abuses include being locked inside of a feces-filled dog kennel, being forced to simulate sex acts with another man, and being spanked. The fact that time has passed, that Toussaint, like countless others, has recently deployed, and that he is close to retirement, cannot and should not excuse his actions. While you concluded that ‘the unit in Bahrain fell short of the Navy’s standards,’ the Navy appears to be sending the message that a superior may abuse those in his or her chain of command with few repercussions.”

SUMMARY OF CASE:

In a 2007 Command Investigation, The U.S. Navy concluded that former Petty Officer Rocha, now legally represented by SLDN, was abused by his commander, Senior Chief Petty Officer Toussaint, while serving in Bahrain.

According to the Navy investigation, Rocha’s abuse included being locked inside a feces-filled dog kennel, being forced to simulate sex acts with another man, and being spanked.

Although the investigation called for Toussaint to be court-martialed, he was later promoted by the military. This prompted SLDN to write to Secretary Gates in November 2009, urging him to ensure that Toussaint be held accountable for his despicable conduct.

In January 2010, the Secretary of the Navy, Honorable Ray Mabus, sent SLDN a response that endorsed the decision by the Chief of Naval Operations that a Secretarial letter of censure and early retirement were sufficient to hold Toussaint accountable for his abuse of former Petty Officer Rocha.

The Retirement Grade Determination Board recommended on Feb. 4-5 that Toussaint receive full retirement and full pay. This recommendation is being sent to the Office of the Secretary of the Navy, and a final decision on Toussaint’s retirement is imminent.

TEXT OF LETTER:

1 July 2010

Honorable Ray Mabus
Secretary of the Navy
1000 Navy Pentagon
Washington, DC 20350-1000

Re: Former PO3 Joseph Rocha

Dear Mr. Secretary:

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) represents former PO3 Joseph Rocha. In a 16 January 2007 Command Investigation, the Navy concluded that SCPO Michael Toussaint abused Rocha along with other sailors under his command in the Military Working Dog (MWD) Division at Naval Security Force Bahrain from 2004 through 2006.

The Command Investigation made 21 findings of fact, documenting numerous incidents of abuse and harassment based, at least in part, on Rocha’s perceived sexual orientation.

Although Toussaint was Rocha’s primary tormenter, the Navy promoted Toussaint after he engaged in the abuses detailed in the Command Investigation.

SLDN wrote to Secretary Gates about this matter on 12 November 2009, asking him to ensure accountability. On 21 January 2010, you responded to our letter on behalf of Secretary Gates. Although it is reported that the initial investigation called for Toussaint to be court-martialed, you said that you endorsed the decision by the Chief of Naval Operations that a Secretarial letter of censure and early retirement were sufficient to hold Toussaint accountable because “time that has elapsed,” his “involvement previously was reviewed by an authorized commander,” and because of his “proximity to retirement eligibility following a return from an overseas deployment.”

It is difficult to comprehend why these factors, individually, or even when taken together, excuse the abuse Rocha and others suffered at the hands of Toussaint. These abuses include being locked inside of a feces-filled dog kennel, being forced to simulate sex acts with another man, and being spanked. The fact that time has passed, that Toussaint, like countless others, has recently deployed, and that he is close to retirement, cannot and should not excuse his actions. While you concluded that “the unit in Bahrain fell short of the Navy’s standards,” the Navy appears to be sending the message that a superior may abuse those in his or her chain of command with few repercussions.

Unfortunately, the Retirement Grade Determination Board held at Naval Station Norfolk on 4-5 February 2010 once again victimized Rocha. The Board dragged him through the mud and made it look as though he had victimized Toussaint. The Board recommended that Toussaint be retired at his full pay. We continue to ask that Toussaint be held accountable for his actions. At minimum, we ask that you retire Toussaint at the pay-grade at which he last served honorably and that Toussaint be given a discharge characterization that reflects his service record, which is clearly, less than honorable.

To do anything less sends the message that so long as 10 USC § 654 (the law known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”) remains on the books, not only will service members continue to be fired based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation, and not only will the law will continue to silence lesbian, gay, and bisexual service members who are the subject of harassment, but the Navy will continue to give license to their superiors to harass, degrade and abuse them.

SLDN looks forward to your reply and assistance in this matter. Should you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at 202-328-3244 (x 105), ATax@sldn.org, or at the mailing address on this letterhead.

Sincerely,
Aaron Tax
Legal Director

CC:

Dr. Robert M. Gates
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000

Honorable Juan M. Garcia
Assistant Secretary of the Navy
(Manpower & Reserve Affairs)
1000 Navy Pentagon
Washington, DC 20350-1000

Honorable Jeh Charles Johnson
General Counsel of the Department of Defense
1600 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1600
Vice Admiral James W. Houck

Judge Advocate General
1322 Patterson Ave., Suite 3000
Washington Navy Yard, DC 20374-5066

Rear Admiral Nanette Derenzi Deputy Judge Advocate General
1322 Patterson Ave., Suite 3000
Washington Navy Yard, DC 20374-5066

Captain Leo Falardeau
PERS-8 5720 Integrity Drive Building 768, Floor # 3, Room N317
Millington, TN 38055

Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (www.sldn.org) is a national, non-profit legal services and policy organization dedicated to ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” A journalist's guide is available here.

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