Originally published on Youthradio.org, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.
By Charlie Foster
An assistant secretary of the Navy upheld the forced retirement of a senior chief accused of hazing junior sailors in a canine unit based in Bahrain.
The decision comes four years after a Navy investigation in which sailors claimed Michael Toussaint, a chief petty officer at the time, had acted as ringleader for a culture of abuse within the kennel between 2005 and 2006. Last February, Toussaint denied much of his alleged misconduct before a retirement review board that was convened months after he was censured by the Secretary of the Navy.
UPDATE: Joseph Rocha, a sailor who testified during the Navy's investigation of hazing in a Bahrain-based canine unit, writes for The Huffington Post about the news that his former chief Michael Toussaint has been forced to retire with full pay.
"Ultimately, MACS Toussaint's conduct as the Leading Chief Petty Officer assigned to the Military Working Dog Division, Naval Security Forces, Bahrain, did not meet the standards expected of senior enlisted leadership in our Navy," said Juan Garcia, assistant secretary of the Navy for manpower and reserve affairs.
Garcia followed the paygrade recommendation of the retirement board, which said Toussaint should receive an honorable discharge and a pension at his current rank. The board members cited insufficient evidence uncovered in the Navy's hazing investigation and a 2009 tour of duty in Afghanistan during which he saved the life of a marine.
"[W]hen looking at his career in its entirety," said Garcia, "I have determined that his conduct did not rise to a level sufficient to warrant retirement in a paygrade less than E-8."
Military law experts had anticipated that Garcia would approve the review board's recommendation since the results of such hearings are rarely overturned. Still, others had hoped for a harsher punishment, as Youth Radio reported in August:
But advocates for the sailors who were abused under Toussaint's leadership said Navy officials had led them to expect a harsher judgement from the board hearing, which according to Navy guidelines determines the highest rank at which a sailor or officer has served honorably.
"I was surprised," said Aaron Tax, legal director of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, "because we thought that the Navy believed this was someone who engaged in outrageous behavior." Tax said despite the board's recommendation, the Navy should lower Toussaint's pension to that of a first class petty officer, the rank he held before becoming chief of the Bahrain unit.
More background on the case from Youth Radio's prior reporting:
Last September , Youth Radio uncovered a 2007 Navy investigation into claims of the unit's culture of abuse and connected it to two subsequent investigations into the suicide of a sailor implicated in the hazing scandal. While names in the copies of the Navy report were redacted, Youth Radio interviewed six sailors from the unit, all of whom named Toussaint as the ringleader of the abuse.
During the February hearing, Toussaint denied the most serious accusations against him -- that he ordered sailors to simulate sex acts during training exercises, that he threw parties with hired prostitutes, and that he condoned the humiliation of a gay sailor who was hog-tied to a chair and left in a dog kennel.
Toussant's lawyers claimed that four sailors who testified against him at the hearing were exaggerating the extent of the hazing. They accused one sailor, Joseph Christopher Rocha, of lying about Toussaint in the media to increase his own public profile as an advocate for the repeal of the U.S. Military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Rocha was discharged from the Navy under the policy after returning from Bahrain.
Youth Radio has obtained statements from each of the retirement board members -- an enlisted sailor and two Navy officers -- explaining why they sided with Toussaint.
"Senior Chief Toussaint has served honorably and was made the 'scape goat' in this case, for the benefit of one disgruntled sailor," wrote one of the board members, Lt. Cmdr. Angel Bellido.
Another board member wrote that he took into consideration the testimony of a Navy SEAL who said Toussaint saved his life last summer when he was shot during a combat mission in Afghanistan.
Toussaint included these statements in a March letter to Juan Garcia, the assistant secretary of the Navy who oversees personnel and will make the final decision on the retirement pay.
"The board's unanimous decision... is a clear repudiation of the allegations," Toussaint wrote in the letter, which Youth Radio obtained through his lawyer.
Military law experts familiar with Toussaint's case said he may be the first enlisted sailor to go before a retirement grade determination board, a proceeding that exists outside the military justice system.
The Navy's top officials decided in October not to court-martial Toussaint and instead canceled his final years of service and sent him a letter of censure from the Secretary of the Navy, the harshest administrative reprimand that can be taken against a sailor. Navy secretary Ray Mabus said the decision to forgo a court martial was based on several factors, "including the time elapsed since the hazing incidents, the fact that Senior Chief Toussaint's involvement previously was reviewed by an authorized commander, and Senior Chief Toussaint's proximity to retirement eligibility."
Toussaint became eligible for retirement pay in January, when he completed 20 years of serving in the Navy. According to the Office of the Secretary of Defense website, his pension would amount to $2,100 a month if he retired at his current rank. If Garcia reduced Toussaint to a first class petty officer, he would receive $1,667 -- about $5,000 less a year.
Navy officials said that before his final release from the Navy, Toussaint will be transferred to the Fleet Reserve, a standard procedure for retiring personnel that lasts about a month.
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