Tragedy struck on June 4, 2021, when recruit Dalton Beals with Platoon 2040 of 2nd Marine Recruit Training Battalion died on day two of “The Crucible” – the culminating exercise of Marine Corps recruit training. This was the fourth recruit death within a two-year period at Parris Island, South Carolina, and the reaction from senior leaders was that an example had to be made of someone.
The person they chose was U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Steven Smiley, one of the drill instructors tasked with training recruits at the time of the incident.
The initial autopsy report determined that the cause of death was hyperthermia, otherwise known as overheating. The accusations were that Smiley was pushing the recruits too hard in the 90+ degree heat and “black flag” conditions. Early reports also indicated that Smiley ignored warning signs that Beals was at risk.
According to the initial investigative report, “it was revealed that although [Smiley] was technically qualified to serve as a senior drill instructor, he did not have the maturity, temperament, and leadership skills necessary to be an effective senior drill instructor.” Other reports from the preliminary investigation seemed to point the death being avoidable.
However, after the command’s early reports painted Smiley as cruel and indifferent to his recruits, Beals’ own family requested the second autopsy because his mother did not feel that the government was telling her about the circumstances involved in her son’s death.
Nearly two years later, we now know that the deceased recruit, Beals, had a preexisting heart condition that was seemingly overlooked prior to boot camp.
Unfortunately for Staff Sergeant Smiley, who is now facing a court martial, that information was not provided in the initial autopsy report.
According to Marine Corps Times, Dr. Gerald Feigin, the medical examiner who conducted the second autopsy, stated, “I find it reprehensible that anyone is charged with a crime in this case” after concluding that Beals died from a “severe, unpreventable cardiac issue.”
Dr. Feigin also told Marine Corps Times, “it was quickly obvious to him that Dalton Beals had multiple areas of scarring in his heart, visible both with the naked eye and through a microscope.”
Although the exact date for his court martial is still to be determined, Smiley is now facing multiple charges stemming from alleged violations of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).
The charges include Article 134, negligent homicide; Article 131b, obstruction of justice; Article 93, cruelty, oppression, or maltreatment of subordinates; and four specifications of Article 92, failure to obey an order or regulation.
During the subsequent Article 32 Hearing, a fact-finding process, the Preliminary Hearing Officer (PHO) recommend that several charges should be withdrawn and dismissed due to a lack of evidence by the government.
The charges that the PHO recommended be withdrawn and dismissed are:
- Charge I: Specification 3: Violation of Article 92 of the UCMJ (Violation of Lawful General Order) in that the accused wrongfully implied that the recruits owed the accused loyalty.
- Additional Charge I, Violation of Article 119 of the UCMJ and the sole Specification: Involuntary Manslaughter.
- Charge III: Violation of Article 131b of UCMJ its sole specification (Obstruction of Justice).
On May 11, 2023, UAP’s Board of Directors accepted Smiley’s request for support with the intent to ensure that he has the ability to fund his legal defense in a criminal court.
Staff Sergeant Smiley is being represented by Marine Major Brentt McGee, Marine Captain Keagan Riley and retired Marine LtCol Colby Vokey.
WHO IS STEVEN?
Staff Sergeant Steven Smiley’s decorations include the National Defense Service Medal, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation, Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, and Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.