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Navy’s top admiral steps in, drops charges against second SEAL charged in war crimes case

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson visits Naval Base San Diego in February 2015. (K.C. Alfred/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS)

Admiral John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, dismissed all charges against Navy SEAL Lt. Jacob X. Portier, who was set to face trial in September on charges stemming from the high-profile murder case of Special Operator 1st Class Edward R. Gallagher.

“Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson today dismissed all charges in the case of Lt. Jacob Portier,” a Navy statement said Thursday. “Richardson took this action in the best interest of justice and the Navy.”

Cmdr. Jereal Dorsey, a Navy spokesman, said the decision came from Richardson, not from President Donald Trump, who this week rescinded medals awarded to prosecutors in the Gallagher case.

Richardson also ordered a full review of the Navy’s Judge Advocate General Corps.

“Recent events indicate a need to review the leadership and performance of the (JAG) Corps,” Richardson said in a memo.

Richardson said the review should address training and professional development, with an “evaluation of the JAG Corps officer career progression and community values for promotion selection and detailing,” the memo said.

The lead prosecutor in the Gallagher case, Cmdr. Chris Czaplak, was removed before trial after a judge ruled that his efforts to track defense attorney emails amounted to misconduct and violated Gallagher’s constitutional rights.

Lt. Cmdr. Jacqueline Pau, the CNO’s spokeswoman, also said late Thursday that Trump had not ordered the move, and that Richardson acted on his own to restore confidence in the military justice system.

“The judicial system is not broken, but let’s let this review play out,” she said. “We will be transparent with what we find. We understand it’s important to maintain the trust and confidence of the American people.”

Pau declined to comment when asked when Richardson last spoke with the president.

Richardson has also stripped the authority to prosecute Petty Officer 1st Class Corey Scott away from Region Legal Service Office Southwest, which previously prosecuted Gallagher and were set to prosecute Portier. Navy authorities had floated the possibility of prosecuting Scott for perjury after he testified that he, not Gallagher, killed a wounded ISIS fighter in Iraq.

Portier was charged with a number of offenses related to those Gallagher fought during his 2 1/2 week trial. Portier was charged with conduct unbecoming an officer, for allegedly conducting Gallagher’s reenlistment ceremony near a dead enemy combatant — the same fighter Gallagher was found not guilty of murdering.

Portier also was charged with dereliction of duty because, prosecutors say, he failed to supervise Gallagher that day. He also was charged with failure to report war crimes allegations against Gallagher and with obstruction of justice for allegedly destroying evidence.

Portier denied all charges and pleaded not guilty. He was set to be in court Friday for a motions hearing.

Navy Region Southwest spokesman Brian O’Rourke said he could not comment on the case.

“The news came as a surprise,” he said.

Jeremiah Sullivan, Portier’s civilain defense attorney, thanked the president.

“I want to thank the president for his continued support of Lt. Portier and all our warfare fighters,” he said in an email to The San Diego Union-Tribune. “We never gave up the ship.”

Gallagher, 40, had been charged with premeditated murder in connection with the 2017 death of a captive teenage ISIS fighter he was treating for injuries. He also faced charges related to allegations he shot at civilians and tried to intimidate witnesses.

He was acquitted on July 2 of all those charges but convicted of one, a charge for posing with the fighter’s corpse. He was reduced a rank to E-6.


© 2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune

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