Published February 10, 2011
The Navy's Inspector General has ruled a junior officer suffered unfair retaliation by his commander after filing harassment charges last year for being nicknamed "fagmeister" and a slew of other anti-gay epithets.
Ensign Steve Crowston filed a harassment claim in February 2010, alleging that Cmdr. Liam Bruen, along with other senior and junior officers, voted in August 2009 to give Crowston the military call sign "Romo's Bitch," a reference to Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. Crowston says other suggestions included: "Cowboy," "Gay Boy," "Fagmeister," "Cowgirl," "TO," "Terrell Owens" and "Redskins."
The original harassment claims were investigated but dismissed in May. Crowston appealed that ruling in July, and added a new charge of retaliation after receiving a poor performance evaluation in June.
Crowston's complaint named Commander Liam Bruen, 42, who gave the 37-year-old ensign "the "the worst performance appraisal" in his 16 years of service.
The Navy now says at least one of Crowston's complaints has been confirmed.
"Department of Navy Naval IG substantiates the allegation that the then commanding officer of VFA 136 gave Crowston an unfavorable fitness report in reprisal for a sexual harassment and hostile work environment complaint he filed," Navy spokesman Lt. Myers Vasquez told FoxNews.com. The Navy did not name Bruen, but FoxNews.com has independently confirmed his identity.
Vasquez said the department has forwarded its findings on to Bruen's commanding officer, who will decide what, if any, corrective action to take.
Former Judge Advocate General Jeff Addicott says Bruen's commander will have little choice but to take strong action.
"If you get a letter from the inspector general that rules against you, it's all over. Your superior has no choice even if you're his best buddy in the world because if you don't take action then they'll open up an inquiry on you and why you didn't take action," said Addicott, currently director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary's University School of Law in San Antonio, Texas.
Addicott says even in a best-case scenario, Bruen's military career is almost certainly over, even if he doesn't face formal criminal charges.
"Non-judicial punishment may be offered to him. If Cmdr. Bruen turns this process down he will face a courts-martial," Addicott said. "If he accepts the non-judicial punishment he cannot be reduced in rank but can be fined and a formal letter of reprimand issued ... when you accept one of those, it goes on your record. He'll never get promoted and they'll force him to retire."
But Bruen told FoxNews.com he hasn't even received a letter informing him of the findings.
"Neither the Inspector General nor anyone in my chain of command has shared the investigation with me," he said. "Most of what I know about the results of the investigation I have learned through the media."
The Navy says the investigations into Crowston's original harassment claims and subsequent handling of that investigation are still ongoing, and no corrective action will be taken against Bruen until they are completed.
"At that point we'll make a decision regarding any corrective action and adjudication on all of those investigations at one time," Navy spokesman, Lt. Aaron Kakiel told FoxNews.com.
Crowston, who is now an ensign at Naval Special Warfare Group 2 in Virginia Beach, Va., says he hopes "the 'system' gets it right the second time around."
"It's unfortunate so much energy has been put into what was clearly hazing and harassment yet was not substantiated the first time around."
Bruen, who has been temporarily reassigned to the staff Naval Air Force's Pacific Fleet in San Diego, Calif., pending the outcome of the open investigations, said he looks forward to reading the Inspector General's report and addressing it "appropriately" - as soon as he's allowed to see it. In the meantime, he says, he's proud of his time commanding Squadron VFA-136.
"Many of the toughest decisions of command concern personnel action," he said. "Personal integrity must be the foundation for these decisions, and I remain comfortable with mine."