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Pentagon Blasts Navy's Tailhook Investigation

September 25, 1992|MELISSA HEALY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The Navy conducted a poorly coordinated, halfhearted investigation into sexual assault allegations stemming from the 1991 Tailhook convention, and did so under the direction of an admiral who apparently doubted that women belonged in the military, Pentagon investigators said Thursday in their first major report on the scandal.

The report, released at a press conference by acting Navy Secretary Sean O'Keefe, criticized three naval officers and the Navy's second-highest-ranking civilian for their roles overseeing an investigation hobbled by bad planning, a narrow focus on lower-level officers and an exaggerated concern for the Navy's reputation.

As naval investigators turned up evidence of infractions other than sexual assault, the officials managing the effort failed to widen their inquiry, the Defense Department's inspector general, Derek Vander Schaaf, concluded. And despite continued recommendations from colleagues, the admiral in charge of the Naval Investigative Service refused to allow interviews of senior officers, even after it became clear that some had witnessed improper acts and failed to intervene.

As expected, O'Keefe accepted the resignations of two admirals cited in the report, Rear Adm. Duvall M. Williams Jr., commander of the Naval Investigative Service, and Rear Adm. John E. Gordon, the Navy's judge advocate general, its chief legal officer. A third admiral, Rear Adm. George W. Davis VI, the Navy's inspector general, came in for less stringent criticism and has been reassigned.

But in a surprise move, O'Keefe said he continues to have "complete confidence" in Navy Undersecretary J. Daniel Howard and has decided to keep him on as the Navy's second in command, despite the inspector general's finding that Howard failed to force the two organizations investigating the scandal to coordinate their work. Howard told Pentagon investigators that he had felt powerless to order such coordination.

O'Keefe noted that Howard has moved aggressively and quickly to address the source of the sexual harassment problems in the Navy.

O'Keefe also announced the reorganization of the Navy's investigative services to streamline their mission and put them under direct civilian supervision.

Release of the findings Thursday set the stage for the next turn in the Tailhook saga--a report that will reconstruct details of what happened last September at the infamous Las Vegas convention, and who did what.

Although that report is certain to include more sensational details, the one issued Thursday in many ways provides more insight into the atmosphere and attitudes many believe led to the incidents at the Tailhook convention.

The Tailhook Assn. is a private, nonprofit organization of retired and active aviators that promotes carrier aviation. Until the Navy severed ties with the group earlier this year, the association and the Navy worked closely together for more than 30 years.

Williams and Gordon disputed the report. Williams called it "fundamentally unfair that I could be tried, convicted and sentenced . . . without due process in a report containing so many inaccuracies and distortions." Davis could not be reached for comment.

Williams, the commander who most directly oversaw the investigation, had repeatedly expressed a desire to end the investigation and on one occasion told a Navy civilian that he did not believe women belong in military service, the report said.

For his part, Gordon "failed to ensure that the Navy fully addressed the issues" in the investigation, and failed to provide the service with "a comprehensive report" that the service could use to correct its problems.

On another occasion, the report said, Williams told Assistant Navy Secretary Barbara S. Pope words to the effect that "a lot of female Navy pilots are go-go dancers, topless dancers or hookers."

Speaking to a junior naval investigator, Williams at one point observed that a female officer who had come forward with complaints had used profane language in describing her alleged assault. "Any women who would use the f-word on a regular basis would welcome this type of activity," the female investigator quoted Williams as saying.

Davis, whose task was to investigate non-criminal aspects of the scandal, told Defense Department investigators that he did not interview senior officials who attended the convention or identify individuals for disciplinary action because such actions would be perceived as a "witch hunt."

Williams' comments, Vander Schaaf concluded, "demonstrated an attitude that should have caused an examination of his suitability to conduct the investigation." Vander Schaaf indicated that Davis was willing to excuse officers' tolerance for sexual misconduct by arguing that Navy culture had been indulgent toward such behavior in the past.

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