Navy investigation finds no misconduct by sub sailor fatally shot through door
By WILLIAM COLE | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: November 5, 2019
(Tribune News Service) — A Navy submariner who was fatally shot through the locked front door at a frightened neighbor’s house in 2018 “did not kick the door, bang on it, yell, or otherwise show aggressive behavior,” according to a Navy “line of duty” investigation that found no misconduct.
Chief Petty Officer John E. Hasselbrink, 41, a fire control technician on the Pearl Harbor submarine USS Illinois, had consumed “at least” seven drinks prior to the April 15 shooting and had a blood alcohol level of 0.25 — three times the legal threshold for driving, the Navy report said.
Hasselbrink arrived by Uber at 3:30 a.m. that Sunday morning and attempted to enter the wrong townhouse 141 feet away from his own in Ewa Beach.
The Navy investigation, obtained by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser through the federal Freedom of Information Act, said Hasselbrink appeared to assume his own door would be unlocked and said out loud, “Who locked my door?”
Hasselbrink was shot through the door by 35-year-old Army veteran Gregory A. Farr, who feared for his family’s safety and had loaded a single round into a DPMS AR-15-style rifle, striking the Navy chief in the neck and killing him on the front porch, according to reports.
“A reasonable person cannot assume that engaging the doorknob on the door of an incorrect apartment would lead to death from a gun fired on the other side of the door,” the Navy investigation found. “FTC Hasselbrink did not yell, kick, strike the door or act belligerently during this encounter; he merely attempted to open a door.”
As such, his actions were not the result of willful neglect and not due to his own misconduct, according to the investigation, which was approved by the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet submarine force.
Farr was reindicted on manslaughter and firearm-related charges last month after the original charges were dismissed in May when a judge ruled that his right to a speedy trial had been violated.
His attorney, Marcus Landsberg, had stated in a previous motion to dismiss the charges that Farr was sleeping on a living room couch and his daughter was several feet away when Farr “heard someone trying to open the front door and pressing their shoulder into the door, making a ‘thud’ sound.” Farr had undergone surgery on his ankle three days before and was on crutches.
Farr yelled, “Hey, who is it?” twice, heard no response and crawled upstairs to retrieve his rifle and returned to the landing where he could see the door, the court report said.
He yelled “Hey” again and showed the rifle so the person outside could see it though a window arch on the door, but “the person on the other side of the door kept shouldering the door and messing with the handle,” the motion stated.
Farr fired a single shot through the door. The preliminary cause of death was a gunshot wound to the neck, the Navy investigation stated.
“The events of that night were a tragedy on all sides, and we have done everything we can not to malign the memory of Chief Hasselbrink in any way,” Landsberg said Monday. Farr had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, the attorney said. A December trial date was set, but that likely will be pushed back.
Hasselbrink was assigned to the Virginia-class submarine USS Illinois and had spent his entire 22-year Navy career at Pearl Harbor. He was divorced and did not have any children, the Navy said.
On the night of the shooting, Hasselbrink reportedly was drinking at bars in Waipahu and Aiea. A line-of-duty inquiry determines a service member’s status at the time of an injury, illness or death that prevents or ends military duties.
The Defense Department provides multiple benefits to a service member’s next of kin, including a $100,000 “death gratuity” and a “survivor benefit plan.” Some benefits can be voided as a result of misconduct or negligence.
The Navy investigation said accounts as to whether Hasselbrink was warned at the door are “inconsistent.” A neighbor believed that no such warning was given, while the Naval Criminal Investigative Service reported a single verbal warning.
“A gunshot after a single warning was not a foreseeable or likely consequence” of Hasselbrink’s conduct, the Navy investigation said.
“FTC John E. Hasselbrink’s tragic and untimely death occurred in the line of duty and not due to member’s own misconduct,” the Pacific Fleet submarine force endorsement said.