Michael Toussaint (pictured top), the Navy dog handler who was slammed for targeting petty officer Joseph Christopher Rocha (pictured bottom) in Bahrain in 2005-06, is apparently himself a victim — of a flawed Navy investigation. Back in 2009 when the Navy’s Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead found Toussaint’s treatment of Rocha (like allegedly forcing him into a dog cage and simulating oral sex in front of comrades) was “not in keeping with Navy values and standards and violated Navy’s long standing prohibition against hazing.” But that conclusion, Navy officials now say, was wrong. But Toussaint must still leave the military … for other reasons. UPDATE: Rocha calls bullshit, below.
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.
Translation? Toussaint is basically off the hook for the torment Rocha alleges, but the Navy sees him as too big a publicity nightmare to let him continue serving. Toussaint will receive an honorable discharged; his exit paperwork will not mention any hazing. [AP]
UPDATE: Rocha responds in part:
According to AP’s story, the Navy admitted that it erred in accusing my unit commander, Michael Toussaint of abusing me on a systematic basis. AP reporter Kimberly Dozier wrote that, “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.”
But AP’s conclusion is wrong. After an official Navy investigation found 93 instances of abuse and misconduct under Toussaint’s command, many of which entailed violations of military law, a second investigation found flaws in the first investigation. There were indeed flaws in the first investigation. But that is not the same as concluding that Toussaint is innocent or that the Navy believes that it was wrong in accusing him.
To the contrary, the Navy has concluded that the evidence, including testimony from multiple members of my unit, shows that Toussaint is guilty of creating a highly intimidating climate of fear that involved systematic abuse. This is why, of course, it is forcing him to retire, and why The Honorable Juan Garcia, assistant Navy secretary for manpower and reserve affairs, issued a statement last week that Toussaint “did not meet the standards expected of senior enlisted leadership in our Navy.”
[…] The notion that I asked to be hazed is particularly egregious and painful. The unit’s deputy commander, Jennifer Valdivia, wrote a note in which she said that I had requested to be hazed, and AP reported this as if it were fact. What AP failed to mention, however, is the context. When the Navy first investigated Toussaint for abuse, it investigated Valdivia as well because of her leadership position in the unit. Valdivia was my best friend, and she was just as intimidated by Toussaint as I was. But when she learned that the Navy was going to hold her responsible, she wrote the note accusing me of requesting to be hazed to save her own skin. Tragically, she committed suicide several days later.