Marine sergeant on Okinawa discharged, demoted for groping
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Sgt. Santiago Gavaldon, a 30-year-old Marine military policeman, was handed a bad-conduct discharge, busted to private and sentenced to four months’ confinement Friday for fraternizing and groping junior enlisted Marines.
After a daylong special court-martial Thursday, Gavaldon displayed no emotion Friday as he stood at attention and listened to military judge Marine Lt. Col. B.D. Landrum pronounce his sentence.
In a quick five minutes, the former sergeant’s eight-year stint in the Marine Corps was brought to an end.
Gavaldon had pleaded guilty to several violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, admitting that he fraternized with junior Marines who worked for him at the Provost Marshal’s Office on Camp Courtney from May to July 2005.
He also admitted to allowing the underage Marines on several occasions to drink alcohol and to three charges of assault and battery.
Gavaldon said he either bought alcohol or allowed the Marines to drink in his presence at a party in his home in Plaza Housing, during a night on a beach, and at several off-base bars.
The assault and battery charges were reduced from original charges of indecent assault. They involved groping the penises of a lance corporal and private first class several times while drinking at a karaoke bar in Uruma, near Camp Courtney, in July and “flicking” the exposed penis of another Marine at a bar in Okinawa City last May.
Gavaldon also pleaded guilty to arriving to work 40 minutes late one morning in July.
Under the terms of a plea agreement, Gavaldon was tried in a special court-martial, often characterized as a misdemeanor court, rather than have the cases handled as felonies at a general court-martial.
Although Gavaldon admitted to the assaults, he said he did not remember the incidents, claiming he drank so much hard liquor that he had blacked out.
According to testimony Thursday of one of the junior enlisted men, Gavaldon bought them two bottles of liquor at a small karaoke bar and asked them whether they personally knew any homosexuals. Some time later they were standing in front of the television, laughing and singing and suddenly the sergeant leaned forward and groped him.
Capt. Hanorah Tyer-Witex, the prosecutor, stopped short of accusing Gavaldon of being a homosexual Friday, instead arguing that he be discharged because he displayed poor judgment as supervisor of young Marines, taking advantage of them “contrary to good order and discipline.”
Gavaldon’s civilian attorney, Neal A. Puckett, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, argued that the sergeant was a happily married man with an outstanding record as an accident investigator. Puckett claimed Gavaldon was merely “overly familiar with his troops.”
“It was just one night of drunken stupidity,” he said of the karaoke bar groping. “It was just horseplay.”