On the morning of February 9, 2022, a Navy judge ruled that all charges in U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Eric Gilmet’s case have been dismissed with prejudice.
Chief Gilmet, Gunnery Sergeant Draher, and Gunnery Sergeant Negron were charged with crimes stemming from an incident that took place in Erbil, Kurdistan (Northern Iraq) on New Year’s Eve, 2018 in which they were assaulted by an American civilian contractor.
Despite the overwhelming evidence of the MARSOC 3 acting in self-defense/defense of others, Chief Gilmet and the Marine Raiders were charged with involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide, obstructing justice, and violations of orders.
United American Patriots (UAP) has supported the MARSOC 3 during their lenghty legal battle by funding their civilian legal representation and generating awareness to members of Congress and to the public about the facts of the case.
The decision for Chief Gilmet’s charges to be dismissed with prejudice came on the heels of an incident where Colonel Christopher Shaw (USMC) made several inappropriate and threatening statements aimed at Gilmet’s then-defense counsel, Captain Matthew Thomas (USMC), during a Judge Advocate Division meeting.
On November 18, 2021, Colonel Shaw held a meeting with Camp Lejeune’s Defense Service Office where he briefed those in attendance on proposed policy changes for judge advocates to act as the referral authorities on special victim cases involving sex crimes.
During the briefing, Captain Matthew Thomas asked Shaw, “What is being done to protect the attorneys in that position from outside influences such as political pressures, media pressure and general societal pressures?”
In response, Colonel Shaw stated, “Captain Thomas, I know who you are and what cases you are on, and you are not protected.”
Shaw continued, “the FitRep (fitness report) process may shield you, but you are not protected. Our community is small and there are promotion boards and the lawyer on the promotion board will know you.”
Colonel Shaw also explained that there were “secondary effects,” and “consequences” for those attorneys that spent significant time in the Defense Service Organization because of high profile cases such as the notorious Haditha case.
Colonel Shaw brazenly stated that “some of the attorneys on those cases were good attorneys,” and that on the promotion board our community is small enough that the attorneys, “will know what you did.”
The original defense team for Chief Gilmet, which included Captain Matthew Thomas (USMC), Captain Keagan Riley (USMC), and Lieutenant Colonel Colby Vokey (USMC ret.), established that the statements made by Colonel Shaw, who at the time as Deputy Director was responsible for the Marine Corps’ Military Justice and Community Development, were in fact actual unlawful command influence (UCI) and prejudiced the attorney-client relationship between Captain Thomas and Chief Gilmet – violating Chief Gilmet’s Sixth Amendment rights.
Chief Gilmet was then forced to decide between moving forward with a compromised defense counsel, or to part ways with the defense team that he had built cohesion with for several years to avoid the effects of UCI.
Although the government admitted that Colonel Shaw’s statements were “misguided and ignorant” and “not grounded in reality”, those statements effectively punished Chief Gilmet by forcing him to make a Sophie’s Choice type of decision.
Gilmet chose to let go of the military defense counsels that he had built a relationship with for years, leaning solely on Colby Vokey, the civilian attorney funded by UAP.
After several attempts by the government prosecutors to argue that the issue had been remedied, the judge strongly disagreed with each of their assertions.
According to the judge’s ruling, he found that, “In reaching these findings of fact and conclusions of law, the Court has considered all legal and competent evidence presented by the parties, reasonable inferences to be drawn from the evidence, allied papers and documents, and the Court has resolved all issues of credibility.”
“The Government has not introduced sufficient evidence to disprove the predicate facts”, the judge stated in the ruling. “Instead, there is ample evidence that these comments were made, that they had an impact on those involved, and that the senior leadership within JAD found the comments to be so problematic that Col Shaw was quickly removed from his position, an investigation was ordered, and the Commandant’s SJA felt compelled to assure Defense Counsel they would not face retaliation for their zealous advocacy.”
The judge added, “The Government has not provided or introduced sufficient evidence that the facts in this case do not constitute UCI.”
This decision from the military judge, U.S. Navy Commander Hayes Larsen, sets a precedent for how other cases will be decided — namely the common trial courts-martial for Gunnery Sergeants Draher and Negron who have their next motion hearing set for February 17, 2022.
The UAP-funded defense team for Chief Gilmet, led by Colby Vokey, would rightfully be pleased with the court’s decision, but they are also preparing for the government’s appeal of this decision as well as the possibility that the U.S. Navy could still choose to administratively separate Chief Gilmet just before his eligible retirement date this fall.
Any further punishment aimed at Chief Gilmet in the form of an administrative separation so close to his retirement would rob him on the benefits that he has earned over his nearly 20-year career.
Unlawful command influence has long been recognized as the mortal enemy of military justice, and the ruling in the case of United States v. Eric Gilmet signals that military leaders must now recognize they will be held accountable when they commit UCI at any level.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect that the government prosecution has officially decided to appeal the judge’s ruling in this case.
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