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NAPLES, Italy — A sailor assigned to the destroyer USS Ross will be confined for 120 days and stripped of rank for making repeated sexual comments to younger female sailors, a Navy judge ruled Tuesday.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Aldane Aarons, a gas turbine systems mechanic aboard the Spain-based ballistic missile defense ship, will have his pay docked and be demoted to seaman recruit under the court-martial sentence. He is expected to face administrative separation from the service.

Capt. John Waits, a Navy judge, sentenced Aarons to a bad-conduct discharge but was bound by a pretrial agreement ruling out that option.

Under the agreement, Aarons pleaded guilty to a sexual harassment charge on Tuesday and prosecutors withdrew a sexual assault charge. The convening authority and the defendant agreed to a maximum 120 days in confinement.

Military law calls for a judge to deliver an independent sentence in any case that involves a deal between the convening authority and the defendant. If the judge’s sentence is stiffer than the punishment outlined in the deal, the judge must defer to the agreement. If more lenient, the judge’s ruling will stand. The judge is kept from seeing the punishment set out in the deal before ruling.

The maximum penalty for sexual harassment is a year of confinement, pay forfeiture and a bad-conduct discharge.

Of Aarons’ three victims, two were present to testify on Tuesday. One, a Navy fireman who worked with Aarons during deployment, testified that the hugs he playfully sought turned awkward as his hands moved further down her back. Aarons asked why he couldn’t get “any sugar,” made suggestive gestures and once tried pulling her coveralls off as she was pulling them up.

Another sailor a third class petty officer, told Waits that Aarons refused to sign a training certificate until she told him whether she liked “brown sugar.” Aarons, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Jamaica, is black.

She recalled Aarons once pulling her against a bulkhead after she brushed past him in a tight space and trying to pull her coveralls down. After pushing him away, she avoided him in the ship whenever possible, she said, to the point of missing meals.

Prosecutors pushed for a stiff penalty, saying Aarons targeted younger sailors during deployment. They said that all three women were considering leaving the Navy and that a stiff penalty would send a message to crews on small ships like the USS Ross.

“People knew and people saw this was happening,” prosecutor Lt. Cmdr. Kimberly Kelly told Waits.

Navy defense attorneys argued Aarons shouldn’t be punished for claims that went beyond sexual harassment.

“The only thing he’s pleaded guilty to is making comments,” defense attorney Lt. Brian John argued in his closing.

Aarons read a statement of apology, turning several times to the two women as he spoke. He said his comments were offensive but asked for leniency, saying he was “filled with shame and regret.”

beardsley.steven@stripes.com

Twitter: @sjbeardsley


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