Midshipman suing Naval Academy superintendent, Navy secretary after not receiving assignment
By HEATHER MONGILIO | The Capital, Annapolis, Md. | Published: November 21, 2020
(Tribune News Service) — Midshipman 1st Class Chase Standage likely planned to spend Thursday finding out his service assignment along with the rest of the firsties.
But Standage was informed Tuesday he would not be given a service assignment. The midshipman, who found out he was listed on the email for Navy pilots, his goal since he was younger, is currently in limbo at the Naval Academy.
Standage is in the process of being separated from the academy due to a series of tweets this summer containing racist and inappropriate statements, including calling for the use of military force against civilian protestors and saying Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police, received justice.
Attorney Jeffrey McFadden, a Naval Academy alumnus, filed a preliminary injunction on Standage's behalf, which led to a judicial order preventing the academy from continuing the separation process. Standage and his attorneys claim the separation is violating his First and Fifth Amendment rights.
After a hearing on the preliminary injunction, which lists Superintendent Vice Adm. Sean Buck and Secretary of the Navy Kenneth Braithwaite as defendants, Judge Ellen Hollander modified her order. The academy could continue the separation process, which included Buck sending a memorandum for separation to the assistant secretary of the Navy Manpower and Reserve Affairs. At the same time, Standage would remain at the academy.
In the Oct. 30 hearing and in her documented responses, Hollander has said she is working to expedite her decision on the preliminary injunction. Still, it will not likely come before the midshipmen are sent home for winter break.
Since the hearing, the two sides have continued the legal fight, with McFadden filing a second amended complaint, now listing the conduct charges that led to the separation recommendation as violating ex post facto laws and violating the Administrative Procedure Act.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kelly Marzullo, who represents the defendants, filed a motion for the complaint to be dismissed, citing, again, that the court does not have jurisdiction due to factors such as Standage not using all administrative relief options.
One of the options was a show-cause statement. McFadden has since filed one on behalf of Standage. The show-cause statement, sent to the assistant Navy secretary, was in response to Buck's memorandum for separation.
In his separation recommendation, sent on Nov. 12, Buck wrote that he found Standage's conduct "unsatisfactory," after reviewing the investigation and interviewing the midshipman for 75 minutes.
Buck said it was not what Standage said but rather how he said it. Hollander has questioned this argument, saying the separation recommendation is due to the content of the tweets. McFadden highlights this argument as well in his supporting legal documents.
Buck wrote that Standage's tweets were "unprofessional, unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, and service discrediting," according to the memorandum. He also described them as "offensive and inflammatory."
"Speaking in a way that could reasonably be interpreted as suggesting that Black Americans are lazy and suggesting that the military should indiscriminately use missiles and drone strikes against American civilians is unprofessional, undermines good order and discipline, and erodes public trust in our military's officer corps," Buck wrote in the memorandum. "Any reasonable midshipman — particularly a first-class with three years of training — would recognize that the tweets posted in this case would compromise his standing as a midshipman and future officer, and bring discredit upon the profession of arms."
In the show cause statement and other legal documents, McFadden argued against whether Standage should have known his tweets would be problematic. The attorney highlighted the lack of clarity on what is considered inappropriate speech, arguing; instead, it is only speech that could be considered racist, resulting in separation.
Other midshipmen, who have tweeted liberal statements that have included comparing President Donald Trump to dictators or retweeted a call for protestors to burn Louisville down in response to police officers not being indicted for Taylor's death, have not faced similar consequences, McFadden wrote in the show cause statement.
In the second amended complaint, McFadden also points to the recent presidential executive order limiting diversity and inclusion training. In the complaint, McFadden argued the Naval Academy is violating that order.
Buck also highlights that while Standage was stressed when he tweeted, it does not excuse the statements. It was not a lapse of judgment, either, he wrote, due to the number of tweets over a week.
The stress response was alarming because a military career can be stressful, and the academy's responsible for commissioning officers who can make decisions while under stressful situations, Buck wrote.
"Unfortunately, I cannot in good faith risk placing MIDN Standage in more challenging situations, where, as an officer, the cost of his failure could be people's lives," Buck wrote.
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