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Navy: Complaints That 'Goon Squad' Terrorized Some at Brig Unfounded

A batch of uniforms are neatly folded and sorted according to size at the Camp Lejeune Base. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/Lance Cpl. Drew W. Barker)
A batch of uniforms are neatly folded and sorted according to size at the Camp Lejeune Base. (U.S. Marine Corps photo/Lance Cpl. Drew W. Barker)

CHESAPEAKE -- An alleged "goon squad" of guards accused of terrorizing military service members confined at the Navy's brig there actually enforced the rules better than other teams, according to a Navy investigation.

One of the sailors who said he suffered under that group -- and an attorney for a high-profile naval officer still being held there -- called the inquiry flawed, saying the investigator failed to interview key witnesses and predetermined its conclusions.

The heavily-redacted 27-page investigation report, dated Nov. 4 and obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, outlined 20 allegations made by detainees at the facility on the grounds of Naval Support Activity Northwest Annex, off Ballahack Road in southern Chesapeake. Many of the complaints revolved around a set of guards who earned the "goon" moniker because of the humiliation detainees say they endured under them.

Claims included having personal property taken from cells or having the cells "tossed," or searched, in retaliation for reporting earlier incidents. Several complained of verbal, psychological and physical assaults.

The report determined the detainees' complaints largely lacked merit and were unsubstantiated because of delayed or vague reporting. The report in several cases questioned why detainees who had a history of filing grievances using the brig's prisoner-request form -- called a DD Form 510 -- failed to use it to air new ones.

It also says that a small group of senior military detainees who complained about having their cells "tossed" set themselves up for the searches because they bucked rules by skipping to the front of the chow line and sitting together. It recommended that the brig emphasize to all staff the need to enforce rules.

"There is some concern that the guard "set" that is complained about is actually enforcing the rules strictly while other "sets" may be more lenient in the enforcement of the rules," according to the report. "This builds an unrealistic expectation in the prisoners that they can do certain things when they should not."

The investigation was ordered in October by Rear Adm. Richard A. Brown, who serves as deputy chief of naval personnel and commands. It was prompted by several affidavits made by detainees in support of another's legal case, said Katie Suich, a command spokeswoman.

The sailor in that case, Seaman Samuel Perkins, who works as an airman, said in his affidavit that he was called a "tar baby" and suffered other abuses -- including being inappropriately touched during a frisk search -- under the "goon squad" during the time he was in the brig, December 2015 to August 2016.

Perkins filed his affidavit after his release. He wrote that he "brought up" the squad to inspectors general from the Navy Personnel Command who visited the brig in June and added he feared retaliation for coming forward. But the report said that IG inspection noted no discrepancies, and that none of the 20 detainees interviewed mentioned allegations outlined in the report.

Perkins also said the command investigator did not interview him.

"If he had, I would have been happy to tell him what I suffered at the hands of Goon Squad Guards," he said in his statement. "I have nightmares and have had to seek counseling because of what they did to me."

Perkins' complaints about the frisk search were forwarded to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which is investigating the claim, NCIS spokesman Ed Buice said. Two other allegations sent to the NCIS were unsubstantiated, Buice said: incidents in which a Marine detainee said goon squad guards struck him with their forearms and twice snuck up behind him and injured his knee.

In the Marine's case, the man, whose name was redacted in from the report, wrote in his affidavit that he "experienced the worst of humanity in wartime" in his 33 years of service.

"But nothing was more disillusioning and disheartening than the way brig personnel treated me and the other pretrial detainees during my time in pretrial confinement at Naval Consolidated Brig Chesapeake," he wrote.

The Marine contended that a goon squad member took a journal he used to detail his post-traumatic stress disorder from his cell. But a brig worker said the journal was taken because it contained personal information about another detainee, "which is contraband." The witness also said the man injured his knee playing soccer in the brig's yard and was taken to an emergency room.

That Marine, who no longer is in the military, is among several people who should have been interviewed by the investigator but wasn't, said Lt. Clay Bridges, an attorney for accused Navy spy Lt. Cmdr. Edward C. Lin. Lin's trial is scheduled to begin in May. He was one of the detainees who filed an affidavit on Perkins' behalf, Bridges said.

Bridges said the investigator's failure to interview some of those who made allegations, including a guard who may have witnessed incidents against the detainees, showed bias. Those who were interviewed were treated as though they were being cross-examined rather than objectively questioned, he said.

Suich declined to comment on the accusations. No staff members were reprimanded following the allegations contained in the report, she said.

"Because these complaints were made many months after the alleged conduct, the members of the watch section have already rotated to new assignments that do not include direct supervision of prisoners or completed their tour at the Brig," Suich said.

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