Judge To Navy: Reinstate Sailor
Judge To Navy: Reinstate Sailor
Jan. 29, 1998
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A federal judge ordered the Navy today to reinstate a senior sailor who faced dismissal for alleged homosexuality based on information the Navy obtained from an online computer service.
Lawyers for the Navy reserved the right to appeal but accepted the court's ruling, a concession that appeared to end the effort to oust Senior Chief Petty Officer Timothy R. McVeigh.
In today's decision, U.S. District Judge Stanley Sporkin made permanent a preliminary injunction he issued this week against the Navy, which sharply criticized the Navy's actions.
The ruling marks a first in the four-year history of the Pentagon's ``don't ask, don't tell'' policy on gays in the military.
``This is the first time a district court judge has ruled that any service has violated its own rules under 'don't-ask, don't-tell,''' said attorney C. Dixon Osburn of the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, an advocacy group assisting McVeigh.
In a new issue broached today, Christopher Wolf, McVeigh's attorney, accused the Navy of giving McVeigh demeaning assignments in the days since the case first came to court.
``Upon his return to duty in Hawaii, he was given two assignments, one of which was to supervise two individuals carting trash out of a room,'' Wolf said. Because McVeigh is no longer serving at sea, ``his salary has been reduced by $745 per month since this investigation began last September.''
McVeigh was the senior enlisted man aboard the USS Chicago, a nuclear-powered attack submarine based at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He is a highly decorated enlistee with 17 years in the Navy, three short of qualification for retirement at full pension.
His Navy colleagues also have been openly hostile to McVeigh, Wolf said, and Wolf asked Sporkin for a court order to force the Navy to ensure McVeigh's protection or allow him to take early retirement. An option would be to reassign McVeigh to another submarine squadron, Wolf said.
``He is legitimately concerned about his safety,'' Wolf said. ``We are very concerned that a situation like that in (the film) 'A Few Good Men' does not develop.'' In the film, Marines at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were found to have inadvertantly killed a colleague while administering punishment for his personal activities.
Sporkin questioned the degree to which he can intervene in Navy personnel matters. ``I think you're putting me in the position of running the Navy, and I can't do that,'' the judge said.
Justice Department attorney David Glass, representing the Navy, did not say whether the service would appeal and declined to comment after the hearing.
Glass also told Sporkin that today's ruling will not preclude the service from acting against McVeigh, who is no relation to the Oklahoma City bomber, should new evidence arise. ``What if we were to get some completely separate evidence tomorrow?'' Glass asked.
In the ruling, which Sporkin made permanent today, the judge found that ``the Navy has gone too far'' in investigating McVeigh.
The petty officer landed in trouble last fall when the Navy found a ``profile page'' posted on America Online in which ``Tim'' from Honolulu described himself as gay and expressed sexual interest in young men. A Navy investigator called AOL anonymously and obtained the author's full name, a disclosure AOL later said it regretted and acknowledged had violated its confidentiality policies.
Sporkin said both the Navy and AOL violated the law in delving into what should have been confidential information held by the online service. The judge also said the Navy went beyond bounds of the military's ``don't ask, don't tell'' policy on homosexuals in the military.
Because McVeigh's profile page was anonymous, Sporkin said, the Navy had no right to make inquiries in trying to prove that McVeigh had declared he is homosexual.