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Retired Marine Maj. Fred Galvin speaks during a briefing on Capitol Hill at the House Cannon building on Feb. 16, 2017. Galvin was the commander of a Marine Corps special operations unit which deployed to Afghanistan in February 2007 and was accused of firing indiscriminately after a car-bomb attack. Looking on are former Rep. Walter Jones Jr., R-N.C., left, and retired Marine Col. Steve Morgan, who was one of the three officers on the Marine jury that exonerated Galvin’s unit.
Retired Marine Maj. Fred Galvin speaks during a briefing on Capitol Hill at the House Cannon building on Feb. 16, 2017. Galvin was the commander of a Marine Corps special operations unit which deployed to Afghanistan in February 2007 and was accused of firing indiscriminately after a car-bomb attack. Looking on are former Rep. Walter Jones Jr., R-N.C., left, and retired Marine Col. Steve Morgan, who was one of the three officers on the Marine jury that exonerated Galvin’s unit. (Carlos Bongioanni/Stars and Stripes)

WASHINGTON — A retired Marine has filed a lawsuit against the Navy and Defense Department for denying him a promotion after he was falsely accused of war crimes, according to court documents.

Maj. Fred Galvin of Platte City, Mo., is suing acting Navy Secretary Thomas Harker and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Washington, D.C., District Court to overturn a decision in 2018 by the Board of Correction of Naval Record not to award him a post-service promotion to lieutenant colonel, according to court documents.

Galvin was first denied promotion after receiving a poor fitness report — “the first ever in his career” — following accusations of his team “firing indiscriminately at civilians” in Afghanistan in March 2007 when he led a Marine special operations company there, according to the lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday.

The accusations, which were later disproven, stemmed from a March 2007 incident when Galvin and 29 other Marines in his company were ambushed by a suicide bomber and roadside fighters before Galvin’s company returned fire and escaped, according to court documents.

But as the convoy returned to their base, disinformation spread and initial media reports in Afghanistan accused the company of killing eight civilians and wounding 31 others in the firefight.

“Within [30] minutes of the convoy’s return, internet reports falsely claimed that the convoy indiscriminately fired on civilians, killing and wounding many,” according to the lawsuit. “The following day, March 5, 2007, Afghan President Hamid Karzai publicly condemned (Galvin) and his Marines.”

An initial investigation first upheld the claims, leading to Galvin’s poor fitness report. However, a 2008 court of inquiry exonerated Galvin and his company, finding they “defended themselves appropriately and proportionately,” according to the lawsuit.

The court of inquiry also found the investigator’s “findings and conclusions ran counter to the weight of the evidence” and faulted military leaders who had reviewed the case “for being unable or unwilling to respond appropriately to what was described as an ‘enemy information operation,’ ” according to the lawsuit.

But despite the exoneration, Galvin’s poor fitness report remained in his service record, affecting his subsequent reviews for promotion, his lawyers argued in the suit.

“[Galvin] was due to be considered for promotion to lieutenant colonel in August 2010, and fitness reports are a very significant factor in promotion selection,” according to the suit. “Following the April 2007 adverse fitness report, the reports [Galvin] received were exceptional.”

Still, he was not selected for subsequent promotion selection boards and involuntarily retired in 2014 “due to service limitations” because he was not promoted, according to court documents.

In 2017, Galvin submitted his case for review to the naval records correction review board, which recommended his service record be reviewed without the adverse fitness report, noting the false accusations had “corrupted the judgment” of promotion review boards previously, according to court documents.

“[Galvin] had served in several key leadership billets, a significant marker for promotion. He had extensive combat experience and had been ‘forward deployed’ for more than three years, which also are significant markers for promotion,” according to the lawsuit. “He had received multiple awards, including a Bronze Star with Combat V, and received glowing comments recommending him for promotion.”

But when a special selection board convened to review Galvin’s record without the adverse report and compared him to the records of others considered for promotion that year, he was still denied a corrective promotion and the board did not provide an explanation of their reasoning, according to court documents.

Galvin is now asking the court to find the promotion denial unlawful and send the matter back to the Navy for further review.

The Navy and Pentagon have yet to file responses to the lawsuit, according to online federal court records. Federal government agencies typically have up to 60 days to submit their response to a complaint in district court.

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