Navy drops probe of alleged assault

March 20, 1995|By The Virginian-Pilot

The recruit lay on her stomach for what seemed like hours, fluttering her legs above the wet tile floor.

She stuck out her arms and crossed them in short, choppy strokes, while three men yelled and screamed within inches of her face.

You think a stupid little white girl from Maine has what it takes to lead this company?

The 20-year-old paddled through the shower's mist until her arms and legs ached. She had to keep moving, to prove she could make it.

She was swimming to graduation.

"You're in that situation, you don't even think straight," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Stacie M. Nevells, who was that recruit. "All you can think about is just getting through it. . . . Whatever it takes."

The episode, which took place more than two years ago at the Navy's Orlando, Fla., boot camp, is at the heart of a controversy surrounding a claim that the recruit was criminally assaulted -- repeatedly kicked in the head and body -- during her first week as a recruit.

The day was known as a sort of initiation, when recruits go through grueling physical exercises and sustain a barrage of verbal attacks, all designed to test their mettle.

At 8:30 a.m. on Aug. 12, 1992, three chiefs came to Ms. Nevells and took her into the shower area and ordered her through a litany of exercises. They made her lie on her stomach and paddle, and told her she had to prove herself before she could lead her company, 1054.

It was then, Petty Officer Nevells said, that she started getting kicked.

Petty Officer Nevells, an operations specialist who lives in Norfolk, Va., has told Navy investigators that she was kicked in the head and beaten with a stick during this ritual, known as "cycling."

Her allegations, made public in December, sparked an investigation into the alleged assault and a review of training practices used at the Orlando boot camp, the Navy's first to integrate male and female recruits.

The inquiry ended Friday when the Navy announced that agents with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service had been unable to corroborate her story and were no longer pursuing criminal charges against the three men.

In an interview last week, Petty Officer Nevells angrily attacked the Navy for failing to follow through on the prosecution and for pressuring her to back off from her story.

Petty Officer Nevells, now 23, is awaiting a medical discharge from the Navy for Meniere's disease, a rare disorder of the inner ear canal, characterized by sporadic and severe bouts of vertigo, nausea and vomiting. There is no known cause for the disease, but Petty Officer Nevells said doctors told her that the 1992 incident and her bouts with ear infections since then could have contributed to the condition.

She is scheduled to leave the Navy on Friday after 2 1/2 years of service. She will receive a 30 percent disability payment, or about $260 a month, for her illness.

Navy officials, who declined to talk publicly about the investigation, have defended their efforts, saying that agents were unable to find anyone who saw the alleged assault or who heard her complain of mistreatment.

They referred to one witness, Todd Carson, a member of the recruit class, who said he was within 10 feet of her during the entire incident and did not see any physical abuse.

Petty Officer Nevells said she never asked for the inquiry.

"People are going to believe what they want," Petty Officer Nevells said. "What bothers me is that other people are going to go through it because no one is going to stop it."

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