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Navy captain fired from command of Virginia Beach SEAL unit facing misdemeanor DUI

Gate 8 at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story in Virginia Beach, photographed on Tuesday, Dec. Dec. 17, 2019. (Steve Earley/The Virginian-Pilot)

Two months before losing command of Virginia Beach-based Naval Special Warfare Group Eight, fired Navy SEAL Capt. Richard Zaszewski was accused of driving under the influence, according to court records.

Naval Special Warfare Command announced March 20 that Zaszewski was relieved of duty due to a “loss of confidence in his ability to command.” Court records show Zaszewski is facing a misdemeanor in Virginia Beach General District Court for a first-offense driving while intoxicated charge stemming from a Jan. 19 arrest.

Zaszewski is a 26-year career sailor. He entered the military in May 1997 and was promoted to captain in August 2019. At the time of his arrest, Zaszewski was the commanding officer of the Virginia Beach-based SEAL unit at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek.

Virginia Beach police stopped Zaszewski around 2 a.m. Jan. 19 for weaving in and out of lanes, according to the arrest report. The sailor failed a field sobriety test and his blood alcohol level was logged at 0.18%, or more than twice the state’s legal limit, according to the report filed in court.

While Navy officials have declined to comment on whether the criminal traffic charge is related to the firing, Hampton Roads-based law firm JAG Defense said the Navy has had a consistent zero-tolerance policy regarding the misconduct of leaders for decades.

“Any commanding officer charged with an offense like a DUI is going to be removed from command. The Navy cannot — and does not — tolerate misconduct from its senior leaders,” said Grover Baxley, founding attorney of JAG Defense and a former active-duty judge advocate in the Air Force.

Navy leaders are held to a high standard of personal and professional conduct, the service said in a March news release when announcing Zaszewski’s firing.

“They are expected to uphold the highest standards of responsibility, reliability, and leadership, and the Navy holds them accountable when they fall short of those standards,” the service said.

Lt. Cmdr. Chelsea Irish, spokesperson for Naval Special Warfare Command added, “The decision was made with careful consideration of the facts and the imperative to uphold the high standards of Navy leadership.”

When asked if Zaszewski’s arrest was related to his firing, Irish declined to provide additional information.

Zaszewski is among six commanding officers to be fired by the Navy this year, according to reports from multiple defense media outlets. He declined to comment at this time through his defense attorney, Robert Morecock.

Throughout his nearly three decades with the Navy, Zaszewski has received 26 awards and decorations, including a Silver Star, three Bronze Stars including one with a “V” for valor in combat, five Defense Meritorious Service Medals, two Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medals, the Combat Action Ribbon, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal.

Baxley, who has represented Navy commanding officers since 2005, said senior leaders are held to a higher standard. Junior enlisted personnel or junior officers, he said, may face consequences such as negative evaluations or nonjudicial punishment, but junior sailors can still progress in their naval careers with a DUI on their record.

“For a commanding officer, if they are relieved of command due to misconduct like a DUI, they are not going to be competitive for future command positions or promotion,” Baxley said.

Baxley is licensed to practice before military courts. His firm, JAG Defense, operates offices in Norfolk and Virginia Beach as well as Cataumet, Massachusetts.

If an officer is relieved for misconduct like a DUI, Baxley said they will be required to show cause for continued naval service. The accused officer may present their case to a board of inquiry made up of three senior officers. The board determines if the officer should be retained or discharged and what service characterization the officer should receive (honorable, general or other than honorable).

If the officer is retirement-eligible, the board will also recommend the rank the member should be permitted to retire, Baxley said. The board of inquiry’s findings and recommendations are forwarded to the secretary of the Navy, who makes the final decision on disposition.

Zaszewski’s next court hearing is scheduled for May 15.


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