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Senior chief must retire despite flawed hazing probe

By Kimberly Dozier
Friday, February 18, 2011; A05

The Navy has admitted that it was wrong when it accused dog handler Michael Toussaint of vicious hazing that singled out a gay sailor under his command at kennels in Bahrain. Still, the senior chief petty officer is being forced into retirement for other infractions.

Navy officials ruled last year that the investigation into the charges against Toussaint was of "poor quality" and "flawed," with many of the claims unsubstantiated. On Thursday, the Navy's top command officially accepted those findings.

Toussaint will still be forced to retire from the Navy for allowing what officials considered "minor" hazing to be directed at former Petty Officer Third Class Joseph Rocha and all other trainees, according to two naval officers. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing an internal personnel matter.

Toussaint was also accused of improper "fraternization" with those he commanded, including gambling for money at his home.

Officially, the Navy would say only that Toussaint "did not meet the standards expected of senior enlisted leadership in our Navy," according to a statement by Juan Garcia, assistant Navy secretary for manpower and reserve affairs. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus concurred with the decision by the chief of naval operations that Toussaint not be permitted to reenlist, Garcia said.

Toussaint's lawyer, Aaron Rugh, said that his client will receive an honorable discharge at current rank and that his notice of discharge will not mention hazing. However, Toussaint wants to serve with the SEALs and is considering appealing the decision to the secretary of defense, Rugh said.

Rocha alleged that Toussaint targeted him for being gay, leading to what Rocha described as a nightmare tour in Bahrain in 2005 and 2006.

Rocha resigned from the Navy in 2007 after revealing his sexuality and being discharged under the "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

In response to a request for comment, Rocha wrote in an e-mail Thursday: "This case will have a lasting impact on the military as a whole in keeping our men and women safe as they serve and honoring anyone who has been mistreated while wearing a uniform. I and many like myself now proudly await the near future when the repeal of 'don't ask, don't tell' is fully implemented and we can continue our military service."

In 2009, Rocha wrote an opinion piece for The Washington Post that helped make him one of the best known of the more than 10,000 people dismissed from the military under the 1993 policy banning openly gay service members.

"I was tormented by my chief and fellow sailors, physically and emotionally, for being gay. The irony of 'don't ask, don't tell' is that it protects bigots and punishes gays who comply," Rocha wrote.

Rocha was invited to the White House in December to watch President Obama sign the bill repealing the policy. Obama encouraged those who were discharged to reenlist, and Rocha said he hopes to do just that.

Behind Rocha's story, though, is Toussaint's claim that he was strung up by a Navy eager to show that it is inclusive and tolerant. Both men claim they were wronged.

- Associated Press

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