Monday, February 21, 2011

Navy Explosive Detection Handler slams AP for 'misleading' story on antigay hazing: 'Navy admits wrong call on accusing dog handler'

Joseph Christopher Bocha
Joseph Rocha, a US Navy vet has called the Associated Press to task for implying, in a story by Kimberly Dozier, that Rocha's  unit commander, Michael Toussaint was railroaded when accused of systematic abuse.

...There were indeed flaws in the first investigation. But that is not the same as concluding that Toussaint is innocent or that the Navy believes that it was wrong in accusing him.

     To the contrary, the Navy has concluded that the evidence, including testimony from multiple members of my unit, shows that Toussaint is guilty of creating a highly intimidating climate of fear that involved systematic abuse. This is why, of course, it is forcing him to retire, and why The Honorable Juan Garcia, assistant Navy secretary for manpower and reserve affairs, issued a statement last week that Toussaint "did not meet the standards expected of senior enlisted leadership in our Navy."
     Toussaint's new letter of censure from the Navy reads: "As the leading chief petty officer, you set a poor example by engaging in conduct that clearly violates the Navy's prohibitions against hazing and fraternization... As a result of your poor example, your subordinates emulated this behavior by taking part in their own hazing activities..."

     AP's story included five factual errors:
  • AP reports that I claimed that my dog and I were soaked by a fire hose but that my base only had garden hoses. But I never claimed I was soaked by a fire hose, and did not have a dog at the time of this incident;
  • AP reports that it was tradition for all new dog handlers to be hosed down with a garden hose when they certified with their first dog. But this was not a tradition at my base, and I was not a dog handler when I was hosed down;
  • AP reports that it is not clear what prompted the investigation of Toussaint. But the record is clear that the investigation was prompted when one of Toussaint's subordinates (not me) complained to authorities about the climate of abuse;
  • AP reports that I confessed that Toussaint was not actually present during the videotaping of a forced act of sexual conduct. But I testified that Toussaint was there and that he coached the scenario;
  • AP reports that I requested to be hazed so that I could "feel like one of the guys." But I never asked to be hazed or in any way volunteered for any abuse.
The notion that I asked to be hazed is particularly egregious and painful. The unit's deputy commander, Jennifer Valdivia, wrote a note in which she said that I had requested to be hazed, and AP reported this as if it were fact. What AP failed to mention, however, is the context. When the Navy first investigated Toussaint for abuse, it investigated Valdivia as well because of her leadership position in the unit. Valdivia was my best friend, and she was just as intimidated by Toussaint as I was. But when she learned that the Navy was going to hold her responsible, she wrote the note accusing me of requesting to be hazed to save her own skin. Tragically, she committed suicide several days later.

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