WASHINGTON — The senior noncommissioned officer at the center of hazing and sexual assault scandal at the Navy’s Military Working Dog Division in Bahrain will be forced out of the service for his role in the attacks, Navy officials announced Wednesday.
After avoiding any punishment for more than two years, Chief Petty Officer Michael Toussaint, who led the division from 2004 to 2006, was recently removed from his leadership post within Naval Special Warfare Group 2 and will be forced into retirement in January. In addition, Navy officials will decide whether Toussaint should be stripped of his rank and retirement pay, Navy spokeswoman Cmdr. Elissa Smith said.
Naval investigators have confirmed 93 instances of hazing and sex crimes inside the Bahrain-based canine unit during Toussaint’s tenure as commander, including numerous instances of Toussaint abusing and ridiculing sailors.
One sailor, former Petty Officer 3rd Class Joseph Rocha, several times was forced to simulate oral sex on other men, and was later kicked out of the Navy for being gay. Another sailor, Petty Officer 1st Class Jennifer Valdivia, committed suicide after being charged with failing to stop the abuse.
Rocha, who suffers post-traumatic stress disorder related to the incidents, said he felt vindicated and relieved following Wednesday’s announcement. He called Toussaint the “ringleader” of the abuse and said Valdivia, Toussaint’s second in command, was powerless to stop him.
“I think the entire Navy is a little bit safer today,” he said. “And any justice for Valdivia is a good step.”
Despite an investigator’s findings of widespread hazing and abuse within the unit Toussaint was reassigned and promoted without any apparent punishment. Last month, naval officials could not say whether any sailors accused of hazing faced an official reprimand or loss of rank. The story was originally reported by Youth Radio, a nonprofit news outlet which trains teens in video and audio production.
In a statement released Wednesday, Smith said after those news reports Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead asked for another review of the investigation and subsequent punishments.
“[He] found that the incidents were not in keeping with Navy values and standards and violated the Navy’s longstanding prohibition against hazing,” she said.
Toussaint has been placed on administrative duties with no leadership responsibilities, given a letter of censure and had his enlistment extension canceled, effectively forcing him to retire in January.
“Our sailors are to be treated with dignity and respect in a healthy and positive working environment,” she said.
Roughead has also ordered Naval Criminal Investigative Service officials to reopen the investigation into the hazing incidents, to see if additional punishment or charges are warranted.
More than a dozen sailors from the unit were implicated in the original investigator’s report, which detailed attempted rapes, frequent visits by prostitutes, beatings of younger sailors and other illegal activities.