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Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011

ZEIT GIST: UPDATE

Navy removes captain over sex abuse furor


The United States Navy has taken action against staff involved in the case of former Lt. Cmdr. Anthony L. Velasquez, a doctor accused of sexually abusing a number of women while based in Japan and Kuwait between 2007 and 2009.

"On Feb. 17, 2011, (Rear Adm. Nanette) DeRenzi relieved Capt. Rex Guinn of his position as commanding officer, Region Legal Service Office (RLSO) Japan for loss of confidence in his ability to command," Lt. Justin Cole, a spokesman for the navy based in Washington, D.C., told The Japan Times. "The relief is a result of his failure to adequately resource, supervise and oversee the Velasquez case. Capt. Guinn has been reassigned locally."

The handling of the case infuriated some of Velasquez's victims, who felt he got off lightly for his crimes. A plea bargain struck with naval authorities saw him serve seven days in the brig at Yokosuka base, Kanagawa Prefecture, after admitting to two counts each of wrongful sexual contact and conduct unbecoming an officer. Twenty-nine further charges against the doctor based on accusations from a total of 23 women were dropped, and a two-year prison sentence, $28,000 fine and forfeiture of all pay and allowances were suspended for a year under the deal. He was dismissed from the navy, had his medical license revoked and is registered as a sex offender in the U.S.

Two victims who spoke to The Japan Times for a Nov. 30 article explained that they were angry that Velasquez had been allowed to cut a deal with authorities, and said they had been kept in the dark about the case by the navy.

"The U.S. Navy has rigorous procedures in place to ensure that victims are kept well-informed throughout the process in accordance with the Victim and Witness Assistance Program (VWAP). We take very seriously any allegations that these procedures were not followed," Cole said.

In response to accusations by victims and witnesses in the Velasquez case, the navy conducted a targeted inspection of Navy Region Japan over the affair. The inspection concluded that "prior to June 4, 2010, NRJ had not been compliant with VWAP standards. In addition, the targeted inspection found that in three cases, from August 2009 to August 2010, trial counsel stationed at RLSO Japan failed to provide victims and witnesses courts-martial information, posttrial information, or victim/witness certification and election concerning inmate status information," Cole said.

The investigation, however, concluded that there was no willful misconduct in the affair, and cited "a lack of awareness of VWAP responsibilities" as the root cause of the problems surrounding the case.

The complaints lodged over the case have led the navy to review the way judges in Japan are trained to communicate with victims and handle plea negotiations.

"In particular, the investigation found that victims in the Velasquez case were not made aware of their right to act in an advisory capacity in plea negotiations associated with the case, and their views concerning prosecution and plea negotiations were not obtained and forwarded to the CA (command authority) in any meaningful degree," Cole said.

Victims who spoke to The Japan Times about the Velasquez case also expressed anger at the actions of Rear Adm. Richard Wren, the senior figure in the affair, with one accusing him of making the plea deal with Velasquez to save money.

The navy, however, did not mention Wren in the targeted inspection. "In reference to the Velasquez case, (Rear Adm.) Wren followed legal procedure in adjudicating the case," said Capt. Jacqueline Yost, a public affairs officer who worked on the investigation.

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