The Coast Guard Investigative Service has denied a Freedom of Information Act request from The Day seeking documents pertaining to the investigation into former Command Master Chief Brett VerHulst, saying the release of such records could interfere with law enforcement proceedings.
The Coast Guard Academy informed staff that VerHulst resigned his duties as command master chief on April 27, and then said in a media statement that his resignation was simultaneous with a removal from his position pending the outcome of “an investigation into alleged inappropriate conduct.” Command master chief is the highest ranking enlisted position at the academy.
CGIS Director Michael Berkow wrote in a letter dated June 9 there were 22 pages of records responsive to The Day’s request for documents but he determined all should be withheld.
“I have determined that the information you are seeking relates to an ongoing criminal law enforcement investigation,” he wrote. “Therefore, I am withholding all records, documents, and/or other material, which if disclosed prior to completion, could reasonably be expected to interfere with law enforcement proceedings and final agency actions related to those proceedings.”
Berkow cited Exemption 7(A) of the Freedom of Information Act, which protects from disclosure “records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes, but only to the extent that the production of such law enforcement records or information could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings.”
He advised that once this exemption is no longer applicable, “there may be other exemptions which could protect certain information from disclosure.”
Coast Guard Academy spokesperson Cmdr. Dave Milne said Monday that in general with investigations, if there’s any indication or appearance that something could be criminal, it starts out as a criminal investigation. He said that if investigators find there is no criminal activity or criminal behavior, the matter becomes an administrative investigation.
Milne said CGIS does not close an investigation or stop referring to it as an ongoing investigation until the convening authority — the official responsible for deciding the outcome for a particular case — takes final action under the Uniform Code of Military Justice or administrative authority.
VerHulst was reassigned to the Coast Guard Research and Development Center in New London. Capt. Dan Keane, commanding officer of the RDC, said VerHulst is still there and doing routine administrative work. Keane said he doesn’t know how long VerHulst will be there, as his case is still being processed.
VerHulst, who still holds the rank of master chief, didn’t respond to emails Monday afternoon seeking comment.
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