Tough base inspector keeps civilians in line
October 14, 2003
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Justice is a simple matter to Marine Col. Michael Dyer, the base inspector for all Marine Corps bases in Japan.
Just because a person may not be subject to the military justice system, it doesn’t mean they are “home free,” Dyer says.
If a military dependent, Department of Defense employee or civilian contractor misbehaves, they will be disciplined, he said. Misconduct, whether it’s shoplifting a candy bar, boosting cars or selling marijuana, is taken seriously, and the penalties can be severe.
And that goes even for persons already tried and sentenced in a Japanese court.
“The Japanese have the first right of refusal in criminal cases,” Dyer said. “But when they have completed jurisdiction, then these individuals come to see us.”
Dyer and three other officers hold hearings on cases involving service family members, DOD civilians and DOD contractors on and off base.
“Normally, when an incident occurs, it shows up on our blotter, and from that, there is an incident-complaint report that’s done,” he said. “Anyone with SOFA status, we get a copy of the report.”
Hearings are then scheduled, in which the hearing officer discusses the evidence and speaks to the individuals.
“The hearings are very informal, very professional and very respectful,” Dyer said. “We look at the preponderance of the evidence and judge cases based on what’s reasonable. We don’t throw people in jail or take money from them. Instead, we take their privileges away.
“Since I don’t take away any of your rights, I don’t need a higher standard of proof.”
The discipline can be as light as a written warning, or as heavy as a permanent barring from military bases. In some cases, dependents are sent back to the United States as “ERDs” — early return of dependents.
In rare cases, a servicemember’s tour is cut short and the whole family must move back.
“And that won’t look good for a Marine’s career,” Dyer said.
He has also changed the nature of lesser disciplinary actions for juveniles.
“We have what we call 100 percent supervision,” he said. “That means the youngster must be supervised by a parent at all times.”
And he means “at all times.”
“Last year, we had nine parents attending school, sitting in the classrooms, with their children,” he said.
It’s the same with persons given hours of community service to perform.
“There’s no more of just dropping the child off at camp services,” he said. “The sponsor or a legal guardian must be supervising the community service.”
Every disciplinary action is voluntary, Dyer said. If the discipline is not accepted, the offender is barred from the bases, at a minimum.
In cases where action is taken by Japanese authorities, Dyer waits for that process to be complete. “If the case is being handled by the Japanese, we’ll just stand back until the case is complete and they are released from that jurisdiction,” he said.
For example, two Americans recently given suspended sentences by the Japanese for selling marijuana were barred from the bases by Dyer.
And that means all bases, not just Marine facilities.
The commanders of the various services have an agreement, Dyer said. If one service bans someone from a base, they are barred from all bases.
“There’s no sanctuary,” he said.
Dyer is particularly stern concerning drug cases. In the marijuana case, for example, nine other Americans were identified by Japanese police as being involved with the distribution of marijuana, but they were not charged.
“We took care of them,” Dyer said. “They were debarred for a minimum of 10 years. And that will be the case for anyone else involved with drugs.”
Debarment means the loss of all privileges. In many cases, the family must move into town at its own expense. To many civilians, it means the loss of a well-paying job.
“If they can’t get on base, they can’t work,” he said.
Dyer said he works closely with DOD schools. If a student acts up in school, it’s reported to his office. Often he works with the schools in determining what disciplinary measures to take. Instead of community service, for example, the hearing officer may recommend an after-school study program.
The most common offense is shoplifting, he said. Every case is taken seriously.
“Regardless of whether it’s lifting bubble gum, CDs or TVs, they have to make restitution for whatever was stolen plus $200,” he said. “That’s AAFES policy.”
That is usually followed by the loss of their ID card privileges for a minimum of a year.
“That means no MCCS, no theater, no PX,” he said. “And if it’s a youngster, we’ll also take away the privilege to drive. If they are 15, they won’t get a license. If they are 16 or older they’ll lose their license here forever.”
Underage drinking is also a problem, he said.
“Last year, we had a rash of incidents, including an incident involving six young men, one 16 years old, one 15 and four 14 years old, who sodomized a 14-year-old young lady,” he said. “It started out with shoplifting alcohol from a shopette and drinking. She became inebriated and they took her to a Dumpster and they all got on line to sodomize her.
“None of those young men cared about her. They all thought it was funny. None of these young men are here on Okinawa anymore. They are all gone.”
What concerned Dyer even more about the case was that some of the boys’ parents would not take responsibility for the actions of their sons.
“Some thought that their sons were the victims in this, that a young lady who becomes inebriated deserves what she gets,” he said. “Parents need to be cognizant of the whereabouts of their children, they need to be aware of not only where they are, but who they are with. They need to know their backgrounds.
“I tell parents to not be surprised if someone tells you that your kids are drinking,” he said. “But some parents just can’t accept it. I had one parent whose child was found passed out who said, ‘My kid doesn’t drink. Someone poured the alcohol down his throat.’”
Dyer stressed that only “1 or 2 percent” of the Americans on Okinawa ever get into any trouble.
For those who do, he said he hopes that by being tough now, the percentage will decrease later.
Last year, his office handled 311 cases. So far this year they’ve heard 319.
Also, there were 44 debarments last year, compared to 51 for the first nine months of this year, and 12 early returns 2002 compared to 19 so far this year.
“I am hoping that by the end of the year, or the beginning of next year, we’ll see a reduction in the number of hearings we conduct,” he said.