NORFOLK, Va. (Tribune News Service) — The former commanding officer of the USS Anzio could be kicked out of the Navy for sexual harassment, abusive sexual contact and conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman after a night of heavy drinking with his crew while he was in the charge of the guided missile cruiser.
Officials relieved Capt. Brian K. Sorenson of command in September following a preliminary investigation into the misconduct allegations. On Thursday, the Navy released the final 126-page report that followed in a response to a Freedom of Information Act request by The Virginian-Pilot.
Investigators found that Sorenson was drunk in public, used alcohol and had personal firearms aboard the Anzio, created a hostile work environment, used indecent language, sexually harassed female officers and misused government vehicles.
The Navy said Rear Adm. Bret Batchelder, commander of Carrier Strike Group Eight, took Sorenson to an administrative admiral's mast Jan. 4 instead of bringing criminal charges.
The Navy said Batchelder requested Sorenson be detached for cause and that he also be made to show why he should stay in the Navy, one of the strongest administrative measures used in the case of officers.
If the commander of Navy Personnel Command accepts Batchelder's recommendations, he could direct a board of inquiry to recommend whether Sorenson should be separated. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus ultimately will determine whether Sorenson remains in the Navy and, if not, at what pay grade he'll retire.
"Capt. Sorenson has an exemplary service record and has provided 25 years of outstanding Naval service to our country. We look forward to this legal process, which will provide a forum for the truth to prevail," Sorenson's civilian attorney, Greg McCormack, said in an emailed statement.
According to the report, Sorenson's career prospects began to unravel in late August when a party was planned for 10 recently promoted officers. Guided missile cruisers typically carry a crew of 30 officers and 300 enlisted sailors. Such parties are known as a "wetting down," where it's customary for the newly promoted officers to spend the equivalent of one month's pay increase on a celebration to share in their good fortune with friends and fellow wardroom members.
The party was planned for Aug. 30, a Sunday, at the Yorktown Pub in Yorktown. The Norfolk-based Anzio was at Yorktown Naval Weapons Station at the time, and Sorenson wanted government vans to transport his sailors. That plan was objected to by subordinates who found it inappropriate, but he continued with it.
Drinks flowed freely after the crew arrived at the riverfront pub about 6 p.m. The report says multiple officers drank to excess, including Sorenson, who later couldn't recall parts of the evening. He left about 11 p.m.
At one point in the night, the investigation found, Sorenson was sitting alone with a female crew member outside the pub and asked her to perform a sex act on him. The sailor told investigators she thought he was joking, and replied she would if he would award her a surface warfare officer pin she was under a time crunch to secure. Sorenson said he wouldn't do that, but he persisted in asking if she would have sex with him and then if she would let him perform another sex act on her.
"Capt. Sorenson then began asking about her sexual history, asking questions about how many people she had slept with and whether she was sexually attracted to women," the investigation says. "(Name redacted) claims Capt. Sorenson told her – in a matter similar to giving an order – to come to his cabin in the middle of the night and see what he does when she tries to wake him up."
Another crew member who witnessed part of the interaction said it resembled a scene from one of the Navy's training videos about preventing sexual assault, the investigation says. It also says Sorenson left the woman only because other officers recognized from appearances alone that it wasn't appropriate for the two of them to be together for so long on the bench.
Sorenson continued to use vulgar language on the van ride home, at one point asking the driver whether he liked anal sex. Sorenson later told investigators he didn't recall asking that question but conceded it might have happened. Sorenson said any inappropriate comments would have been in the context of what the Navy is demanding from its crew and weren't intended to be sexual.
The next morning, the sailor Sorenson spoke with outside the bar met with him in his cabin. A "Privacy Please" sign went up on the door. The woman told investigators the first question he asked was, "If I give you your SWO pin, will you sleep with me?"
After she responded "no," Sorenson continued talking and asking questions of a sexual nature, signed the sailor's qualification letter and told her he'd appreciate if their conversations were kept quiet, according to the investigation.
"Capt. Sorenson implied a connection between sexual favors and an impact on her career," the investigation says.
The woman told investigators it wasn't the first time Sorenson was inappropriate.
"The CO always seems to want to touch me inappropriately, more than just a pat on the back. He will rub against my knee with his knee or touch my side as he is walking by. I don't know what to say to him about this, I'm worried how he will take it," she said in a witness statement.
After word began spreading about what happened at the party, the ship's executive officer and command master chief recommended an outside investigation.
Sorenson later addressed the chiefs and officers in separate meetings. The report says he admitted he had too much alcohol and pledged to not have another drink while he was the commanding officer. In the officers' meeting, he told them they all shared responsibility for letting the party get out of hand and for allowing him to drink too much, the investigation says.
"Some of the officers were disturbed or angered by Capt. Sorenson's comments, which they perceived as deflecting responsibility onto them," the investigation says.
The next day, an investigator arrived and found that women aboard the Anzio reported a history of uncomfortable interactions with Sorenson.
The expanding investigation found crew members reporting seeing Sorenson drink to excess during earlier port visits. Sorenson told investigators there was only one time where he may have appeared to overimbibe, but he said he fell asleep at a restaurant because of exhaustion, not alcohol.
While in port in Ireland, Sorenson invited the ship's command master chief to have a drink with him in his cabin. He produced two beers and a bottle of liquor, in violation of Navy regulations. The ship's enlisted leader poured out the beers and put the liquor in his locker before later returning it to him, the report says.
Investigators found that Sorenson had two personal handguns aboard the ship, which he showed to others while the ship was under way to see whether they were interested in buying customized USS Anzio pistols.
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