April 11, 2019 – In Breaking News – NPR
The U.S. Navy is set to drop all criminal charges against two officers following the fatal collision that killed seven sailors aboard the USS Fitzgerald as the destroyer was on a secret mission.
The decision ends a years-long legal battle in which the Navy blamed Cmdr. Bryce Benson and Lt. Natalie Combs, among others, for what it determined was an “avoidable” accident caused, in part, by numerous leadership failures.
But the move is also likely to end their naval careers.
(The seven sailors who were killed in a collision between a U.S. Navy destroyer and a Philippine container ship have been identified and an investigation will be conducted officials said. Courtesy of ABC News and YouTube. Posted on Jun 19, 2017.)
A statement issued Wednesday explained that Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson recommended the negligence charges against the officers be withdrawn and dismissed.
“This decision is in the best interest of the Navy, the families of the Fitzgerald Sailors, and the procedural rights of the accused officers,” the statement reads. “Both officers were previously dismissed from their jobs and received non-judicial punishment.”
Additionally, the statement says Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer will issue letters of censure to Benson and Combs.
The letters carry no legal weight but are used within the military to publicly shame service members.
(Last year, two naval destroyers were involved in two separate deadly collisions in the Pacific. Now the former commanders of both vessels face a battery of offenses, including negligent homicide. John Yang talks to retired Lt. Col. Gary Solis of Georgetown University about the unusual nature of the charges and the larger message they send. Courtesy of PBS NewsHour and YouTube. Posted on Jan 17, 2018.)
“The cases are being dismissed for legal reasons that impede the continued prosecution of either officer,” the Navy explained in letters sent to the families of the seven sailors who died in the collision with a cargo ship, USNI News reported.
Combs’ lawyer, David Sheldon, told NPR the lieutenant received a letter of censure from the secretary of the Navy on Thursday admonishing her for her actions.
“To be clear, Lt. Combs was fully prepared to defend and defeat the charges brought against her,” Sheldon said.
“She was not responsible for setting an operational tempo that undercut staffing and training, that allowed for the ship to move with ‘degraded’ radar and that put sailors at extreme risk aboard the USS Fitzgerald.”
(The commander of the USS Fitzgerald and two senior officers were relieved of their commands for the horrifying crash in June that killed seven sailors. In all, about a dozen officers and men are expected to be disciplined. Courtesy of CBS Evening News and YouTube. Posted on Aug 17, 2017.)
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