Marine MP admits groping subordinates
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A Marine military police sergeant faces a bad-conduct discharge for drinking with underage junior Marines and groping them.
Sgt. Santiago Gavaldon, 30, pleaded guilty to several violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice during a daylong special court-martial in the Keystone Judicial Circuit Court on Thursday. He was scheduled to be sentenced Friday.
Under a plea agreement, Gavaldon admitted he fraternized with junior enlisted men who worked under him at the Provost Marshal’s Office on Camp Courtney from May to July 2005. He also admitted he allowed them on three occasions to consume alcohol in his presence even though they were younger than 21, a violation of a Marine Corps Base order regarding the sale and consumption of alcohol on Okinawa.
But the most serious charges to which he pleaded guilty involved assaulting three of the young Marines by either groping or “flicking” their penises.
The three assault charges were reduced from the more serious charges of indecent assault.
Although Gavaldon admitted to the assaults, he said he did not remember much about the night he went out drinking at an off-base bar with a lance corporal and a private first class who worked for him at the PMO shop on Camp Courtney. He said he drank so much hard liquor he blacked out.
According to the testimony of one of the junior enlisted men Thursday, Gavaldon bought them two bottles of liquor at a small karaoke bar and asked them whether they personally knew any homosexuals.
“I felt it was kind of strange,” said Pfc. Joshua Houston, who was a lance corporal at the time but was later busted and is serving time in the brig on an unrelated larceny conviction.
He said the sergeant groped him three times that night.
“I did not think he was joking,” Houston said.
The next morning at work, Houston was writing down his thoughts about what had happened on paper when Gavaldon came into work 40 minutes late and wondering what had happened the night before.
“I told him we all got pretty drunk and you started acting crazy,” Houston said.
He said Gavaldon claimed he had blacked out and apologized.
The case would have ended there, except Houston had hidden his writing pad from the sergeant. It was found by someone on the next shift and an investigation was started.
“I was willing to just forget about it,” Houston said.
The investigation turned up an additional allegation that Gavaldon took some junior enlisted Marines to a bar in Okinawa City last May and “flicked” the penis of one of the Marines when he saw him sitting with a “hostess” with his pants around his ankles.
“I was upset,” Gavaldon told the judge.
However, the prosecutor, Capt. Hanorah Tyer-Witex, said Gavaldon had signed a statement alleging that he had also blacked out that night and had no memory of the incident.
“Here we see a pattern of behavior, taking young Marines out, getting them drunk and taking advantage of them,” Tyer-Witex said.
She stopped short of accusing Gavaldon of homosexuality. Instead, she said his was a case of a bad leader taking advantage of underage junior Marines “contrary to good order and discipline.”
She asked for a sentence of at least six months in jail and a bad-conduct discharge.
Gavaldon’s civilian attorney, Neal A. Puckett, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, argued the sergeant had been happily married for five years and had a stellar record. Several character witnesses testified he was an outstanding worker.
Throughout the trial Gavaldon’s wife sat on a bench behind him fingering rosary beads.