1994 Seattle P-I Editorial: Naval probe needed in officer's discipline
J.D. Alexander Editor and Publisher
John Currie Business Manager
Kenneth F. Bunting Managing Editor
Charles J. Dunsire Editorial Page Editor
Thomas A. Reed Associate Editor
The voice of the Northwest since 1863
The Navy should reverse course and grant a new trial to Lt. Cmdr. Walter Fitzpatrick, who appears to have been the subject of a vendetta by his superiors.
The case has an odious smell about it and needs an impartial airing.
Fitzpatrick received a court-martial conviction on one count of financial negligence in 1990. As a result, a career-destroying letter of reprimand was placed in his file.
Fitzpatrick's defenders include Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash. and Lt. Matthew Bogoshian, the former Navy officer who prosecuted the 40-charge case against him but now says there was little to support any of it.
Nevertheless, Fitzpatrick, a 20-year Navy officer who has two steel pins in his shoulder from a helicopter crash in the Persian Gulf in 1987, has been exiled to shore staff jobs and twice passed over for promotion. He is due for mandatory retirement in July.
Fitzpatrick's troubles surfaced after the brother of his commanding officer aboard USS Mars, [Captain] Nordeen, was murdered by terrorists in Greece. Fitzpatrick was executive officer aboard the ship at the time and his subordinates voted to use $10,400 in non-government money to send a delegation of sailors and their wives to attend the funeral. [Captain] Nordeen also defends the expenditure as proper.
But Fitzpatrick's troubles may have been triggered by a critical debriefing he gave his superiors in Oakland on his return from the Persian Gulf regarding inadequate support to his ship. The same staffers who heard his complaints initiated the investigation against him shortly thereafter.
Fitzpatrick has charged the Navy with obstruction of justice, intentional falsification of investigative reports, intentional withholding of evidence supporting his innocence, and attempted cover-up of criminal misconduct and perjury by Navy staff.
Dicks has asked for a new trial, but the Navy has refused. We think Fitzpatrick, rated as an excellent officer throughout his career, deserves another hearing.