News (USA)

Navy petty officer faces punishment over anti-gay abuse and hazing

Joseph RochaSenior Navy leaders handed a career-ending letter of censure Wednesday to the chief who oversaw the prolonged hazing and sexual taunting of members of a Navy dog-handling unit in Bahrain.

Senior Chief Petty Officer Michael Toussaint was returned from an overseas assignment and will be reassigned to administrative duties at a base in Virginia until his forced retirement in January, said Cmdr. Elissa Smith, a Navy spokeswoman.

The hazing took place between 2004 and 2006 at a 19-member Navy detachment that trained and deployed bomb-sniffing dogs in the Persian Gulf region. An investigation at the time showed that much of it involved juvenile antics, including forcing sailors to eat liver dog snacks or walk around with canine chew toys in their mouths, and tying them up in dog kennels.

One of the victims of the hazing, Joseph Rocha (pictured), said he decided to leave the Navy in 2007 by telling his commander he was gay, in violation of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Rocha said he was tied to a chair and left in a dog kennel, hosed down while in uniform and forced to simulate oral sex on another sailor. He said he first came under suspicion for not sleeping with prostitutes when other men in the unit did. A Veterans Affairs doctor has diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder from the constant hazing.

The investigation, completed in 2007, apparently did not result in any punishment for Toussaint, who later was promoted to senior chief. His second-in-command, Petty Officer 1st Class Jennifer Valdivia, committed suicide as the investigation was nearing completion after posting a message that she was upset with being held responsible for the others’ mistakes.

The hazing came to light only last month as a result of media interviews with Rocha, now a junior at the University of San Diego, who served in the unit from 2004 to 2007.

Rocha said he did not discuss his sexual orientation at the time in compliance with the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and feared that he would be forced to leave the Navy if he reported the harassment. He appeared Wednesday on CNN with reaction to the announcement.

Toussaint is on leave and doesn’t wish to comment, said a Navy official.

More on this story at the San Diego Tribune.

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