Navy investigating incident between guard, Naughton

Academy superintendent angered by request for ID

February 28, 2003|By Ariel Sabar and Amanda J. Crawford | Ariel Sabar and Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

The Navy's inspector general is investigating a confrontation between the Naval Academy superintendent, Vice Adm. Richard J. Naughton, and a Marine guard who asked to see his identification at a school gate, a Navy spokeswoman confirmed yesterday.

Investigators are looking into whether, among other things, there was physical contact between the two after Naughton, a three-star admiral, became angry at the young guard's request for his ID on New Year's Eve.

The guard was reassigned to a base in Washington after the encounter, a move "considered to be in the best interest of both parties," Lt. Cmdr. Pauline Storum, the Navy spokeswoman, said.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's editions of The Sun about a confrontation between the Naval Academy superintendent and a Marine guard implied that a Navy spokeswoman had confirmed details of the encounter. The spokeswoman confirmed only that the Navy was investigating the matter; details about the confrontation were provided by others. The Sun regrets the error.

Storum, who disclosed the investigation after inquiries from The Sun, said she is prohibited from revealing who filed the complaint that touched off the investigation, noting that some are filed anonymously.

She said witnesses have offered differing accounts of what unfolded at the academy's Gate 3 in the early evening of Dec. 31, a night when thousands of revelers filled the streets of Annapolis and the academy campus.

Investigators "are going to conduct a thorough investigation to determine what action, if any, can come from this," Storum said.

The Office of the Naval Inspector General is the Navy's independent watchdog agency, charged with investigating complaints of inappropriate conduct by Navy and Marine Corps officials and recommending possible sanctions to the Navy secretary.

Naughton declined yesterday through a spokesman to comment.

An academy official said he was told by a witness that Naughton, who was in civilian clothes and with a group of friends, became upset after the guard asked him for his ID, a request made of all pedestrians seeking entry to the academy since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Naughton flashed it quickly from a distance, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution. But the guard said he couldn't see it and asked Naughton to come closer. Naughton advanced toward the guard aggressively, waving the ID in the guard's face, the official said. Feeling threatened and not realizing that he was dealing with the academy's commanding officer, the guard backed away and reached for his canister of pepper spray, the official said.

Shortly afterward, the official said, Naughton complained to the guard's superiors at Naval Station Annapolis, leading to the guard's transfer to Marine Barracks Washington D.C. The Marine Corps referred all questions about the incident to the Department of the Navy.

Storum said that no weapons were drawn or fired during the encounter, but declined to say whether that included pepper spray. She said that Marine commanders reassigned the guard to Washington "for a variety of reasons."

"It's important to note that reassignment is not a punishment," she said.

Some academy officials say that guards are expected to recognize the faces of their commanding officers. Others, however, say that even the most senior officers must comply with security checks, particularly at a time of heightened concern about national security.

Naughton, 56, a veteran aviator and 1968 Annapolis graduate, has largely stayed out of the headlines since taking the academy's helm in June. A disarming presence with a lanky frame and a striking head of white hair, he has impressed some colleagues with his passion for the minutiae of the academy's day-to-day workings. But he has alienated others, particularly on the faculty, with a leadership style that several current and former academy officials describe as inflexible and doctrinaire.

Marines have guarded the academy since 1851, six years after the school's founding. The enlisted Marines, many in their late teens or early 20s, stand stiffly in camouflage fatigues at guard stations, keeping watch over the main gates and the tomb of John Paul Jones.

Rumors of Naughton's encounter with the young Marine, whose name has not been disclosed, have been sweeping through the 4,000-student brigade of midshipmen for weeks.

On the evening of Dec. 31, the streets near the academy teemed with more than 10,000 people in town for the city's annual New Year's Eve celebration. Hundreds made their way onto the campus, where they could watch fireworks, listen to bands, or see a masked woman on stilts greet children as they entered Halsey Field House for face painting and games.

In advertising the "First Night" celebration, organizers reminded revelers to expect to show ID and have their belongings searched before entering the academy.

A sign at Gate 3, off Maryland Avenue, through which Naughton returned that night, says: "I.D. Check in progress. Have your I.D. Card Ready."

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