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Navy's Reprimand of Leader Not Enough

October 24, 2009
The Virginian-Pilot

The father of a Sailor who killed herself in the wake of an investigation into hazing abuses in a Navy dog-handling unit in Bahrain says the ouster of the alleged ringleader from the Navy is a good start but doesn't go far enough.

The Navy said Wednesday that Senior Chief Petty Officer Michael Toussaint, a dog handler now assigned to the Naval Special Warfare Development Group in Virginia Beach, has received a letter of censure from the secretary of the Navy and will be forced into early retirement.

Toussaint, who led the Bahrain unit until March 2006, was at the center of a 2007 command investigation that documented more than 90 instances of abuse, including Sailors being ordered to simulate homosexual sex in training videos, hogtied to chairs and force-fed dog treats.

Toussaint was not prosecuted and was promoted after transferring out of the unit. He has been unavailable for comment.

"He needs to go to the brig," Chris Young said in an interview Thursday.

Young, of Alpha, Ill., is the father of Petty Officer 1st Class Jennifer Valdivia, the second in command of the Bahrain unit under Toussaint. Valdivia, 27, killed herself in January 2007 after being relieved of her duties and told that she might be held responsible for some of the alleged misconduct.

Other Sailors in the unit have said Valdivia appeared handcuffed to a bed, covered only in a sheet, in one of the videotaped "training scenarios" that Toussaint organized.

Valdivia's father said she was bullied by Toussaint.

"If my daughter didn't do what he told her to do, he would embarrass her in front of everybody in the kennel, belittle her," Young said. "Everybody who was friends with Jennifer tells me the same story: She was the fall person. She was the scapegoat."

Valdivia, who had been placed in charge of the unit after Toussaint's transfer, was called into an office by a superior officer on Jan. 12, 2007, and "was told to pack her bags -- she was going to the brig," Young said.

That same day -- a Friday preceding a three-day holiday weekend -- she posted a final message on her MySpace Web page: "Tired of being blamed for other people's mistakes. Carry on smartly now." That evening, she killed herself in her living quarters by inhaling carbon monoxide from a charcoal grill.

Young's account of what happened that day is backed up by Joseph Rocha, a former Sailor who acknowledged being gay and left the Navy. He has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder resulting from two years of abuse in the Bahrain unit.

"It became common knowledge on the base that Val had been brought in and threatened," Rocha said, referring to Valdivia. "She was treated very unkindly by the chain of command. It was irresponsible to deliver that kind of threat right before a long holiday weekend."

Her father said he thinks Valdivia was driven to suicide by fear that an exemplary military record -- she had been the Bahrain unit's Sailor of the Year in 2005 -- would be indelibly stained.

"She worked so hard to get what she got, and they were going to take it away," he said.

"Somebody has to answer for this."

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