A black officer at the National Naval Dental Center, citing a meeting that one of those present described as a "lynching," has filed a complaint alleging that he was kicked out of a program at the Bethesda facility because of racial discrimination.
The complaint filed by Cmdr. Willie Keith Beasley refers to testimony from a Navy officer who described the meeting at which faculty members recommended Beasley's dismissal.
"Do we really want his kind to be in our specialty?" one of the officers at the meeting asked, according to sworn testimony from a Navy captain who was present. The captain said that he was uncertain if the comment was a reference to Beasley's color, but he felt sure the officer was being victimized by racial insensitivity.
A memorandum written after the meeting by a senior officer recommended Beasley's dismissal, concluding he was "incapable" of meeting the challenges of the residency program in prosthodontics, a specialty dealing with replacing missing teeth. In April, Beasley was removed from the program at Bethesda and sent to a dental clinic at the Washington Navy Yard.
The dental center commander who approved Beasley's dismissal, Capt. James Peterson, is reviewing the case. All allegations made will receive "complete, fair and impartial consideration," Peterson said yesterday, adding that he could not discuss details of the case.
Beasley, 43, the son of an Army Green Beret, says it was "a dream come true" to be selected for the program. But the Navy's prosthodontics department "seems to be the last bastion of the good ol' boy network," added Beasley, a resident of Vienna.
"I have never, in my entire military career ever insinuated, intimated that race was an issue," he told a military board that reviewed his case. "But I can't help but now think that it may be."
To support his contention, Beasley points to potentially explosive testimony at the hearing this spring in which Beasley appealed his dismissal.
Capt. Gregory Keating, a faculty member in the prosthodontics department, testified that other staff members described Beasley in disparaging language, referring to him behind his back as "Cmdr. Beastly" and joking about "his big, fat black [behind]."
Keating testified that while there is no overt racial prejudice at the prosthodontics department, there is an "undercurrent" of racial insensitivity that he said was responsible for Beasley's dismissal.
Keating described a meeting this year called by staff members determined to kick Beasley out of the school. They complained that Beasley's work was terrible and that he "mutilates" patients, Keating testified.
"And then I said, 'Well, how about examples? Do any of his patients complain?' And there was no answer.
"And then someone said--I can't recall who it was--'Listen, the bottom line is, do we really want his kind to be in our specialty?' " Keating said.
"I'm kind of thinking, what does that mean?" added Keating.
Keating said his attempts to defend Beasley were ignored. Without his knowledge, he testified, Keating was listed as supporting Beasley's dismissal in a March 2 report sent to the school's commander by Capt. R.J. Leupold, chairman of the specialty program.
"This is a gross distortion of what transpired and what I consider to be more or less a lynching meeting," Keating told the board.
Nonetheless the board of five Navy officers rejected Beasley's appeal and backed the decision to dismiss him. The board said Beasley had failed to meet standards after being placed on probation.
The board acknowledged that "insensitivity may exist" at the school and said that the issue "merits further study." But the recommendation added that in the board's opinion, "this was not the cause of CDR Beasley's poor performance."
Beasley's evaluation reports depict an officer and doctor who was highly regarded until after his arrival at Bethesda in 1998. "He hit the ground running and is sure to become one of our top officers," a Washington Navy Yard reviewer said in 1995.
Beasley's evaluations at Bethesda were initially positive but became increasingly critical by the time he began his second year in the fall of 1999.
They describe Beasley as having difficulty staying awake in class, being unprepared and botching dental procedures.
Beasley said his performance dropped during his father's terminal illness last year. He and his supporters say the negative evaluation reports reflect an orchestrated campaign to remove him from the school.
No black officer has ever completed the residency program, according to Beasley's complaint, which states that Cmdr. Nick Russo, who is also black, was "invited" to leave the program last year.
Keating supported Beasley's contention that he had been targeted.
"It is going to be my word against four or five other people at any meeting," Keating testified, "but I have, on more than one occasion, heard the term that now that Nick is gone, referring to Nick Russo, Beasley is in the cross hairs."
The chairman of the orthodontic department at National Naval Center, Capt. A.J. Maskeroni, who supervises all residents at Bethesda, filed a statement saying that Beasley had been performing in an above-average manner and that he had never been told of any problems.
His dismissal "would be a grave injustice for Dr. Beasley and would leave a black mark on the Naval Dental School," Maskeroni wrote.
Rear Adm. Michael J. McCabe, a carrier group commander, described Beasley in a letter filed in the case as "a leader, gentleman and dentist of the absolute highest order. For his dental career to end would be a tragic loss and a total waste of the caliber of officer we need."