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Sailor charged with possessing 20 hand grenades stolen from USS Pinckney

In a May 2004 file image, sailors fire 19 gun salutes during the commissioning ceremony for the destroyer USS Pinckney, background, at Construction Batallion Center, Port Hueneme, Calif.

BRYAN CHAN/THE LOS ANGELES TIMES (TNS)

By KRISTINA DAVIS | The San Diego Union-Tribune (Tribune News Service) | Published: April 24, 2018

A sailor was arrested Tuesday morning on suspicion of possessing 20 military-grade grenades that had been stolen from a San Diego-based Navy destroyer — explosives that were later found abandoned on the side of a freeway in Arizona.

Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Aaron A. Booker, 31, is charged with one count of possession of stolen explosives in a San Diego federal complaint that was unsealed Tuesday. He was arrested by Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents in Great Lakes, Ill., where he is now stationed.

The shipment of 60 MK3A2 concussion hand grenades arrived on January 20, 2016, aboard the Pinckney, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer ported at Naval Base San Diego, according to the complaint. The explosives were packaged 20 to a crate, labeled as “G911 grenades.” Each contains about a half-pound of TNT.

They were stored in a secured locker, with the only access given to gunner’s mates who would daily check the temperature in the unit, authorities said.

About a year later, in February 2017, a routine inventory revealed the bottom crate had a missing seal — and 20 missing grenades.

The 15 sailors who had access at the time were each interviewed, and each allowed NCIS agents to search their vehicles and homes. But the searches yielded nothing of use.

Some of the sailors in their interviews, however, indicated Booker had been angry with his commanding officer and entire chain of command aboard the Pinckney due to a previous disciplinary matter, according to the complaint.

When the grenades were discovered missing, Booker was in the process of transferring to his new command in Great Lakes.

In March, about a week into his new post, NCIS agents interviewed him about the missing explosives. He denied seeing them, opening the crates or having ever trained with them, the complaint states.

About a month later, on April 20, 2017, the grenades turned up — or most of them.

An off-duty Orange County sheriff’s deputy was driving on Interstate 15 in northwest Arizona and spotted a backpack leaning on a guardrail on the side of the road. The black backpack was standard-issue military with “GM2 Booker” handwritten on an inside tag.

Arizona highway patrol officers and the FBI found inside 18 grenades with the same lot number as the missing explosives.

In a second interview, Booker admitted that the bag was his and that he’d taken the route, but said the backpack had been stolen from him about a year ago after he’d left it in the Pinckney’s armory. He stated he was especially upset about the theft because the bag had a GM pin on the front that was hard to replace.

He then said that he had seen the grenades out of their crate and had trained on their use, the complaint says.

A search of his home in Illinois turned up the GM pin he’d talked about having been stolen. He acknowledged it was the same pin, according to the complaint.

A day later, Booker called an NCIS agent and reported that he’d made several inquiries into the grenades with people in San Diego and directed agents to look in Tijuana for the last missing two. He said his former motorcycle club was associated with two people who had connections to the “cartel” and that the grenades were stolen at the request of the cartel, the complaint says.

He also continued to deny stealing the grenades but admitted going “into the box” at one point to confirm the grenades were present, the complaint states.

A search of Booker’s phone found that he conducted a Google search for “G911 grenade” on Jan. 25, 2017, watched a YouTube video about grenades and did another Google search, the complaint says.

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©2018 The San Diego Union-Tribune
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