NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — The former commanding officer of a Navy shipyard in Virginia slapped a female worker on the shoulder and regularly yelled at his subordinates while using profanity, intimidating them, a Navy investigative report said.
Capt. Gregory Thomas was permanently removed from command of Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth on Oct. 25 for conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.
Details of what led to his removal were in a report by the Navy's inspector general's office and obtained by The Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act.
Thomas denied slapping the woman. He apologized for some of his comments and denied using profanity at times.
One unidentified man interviewed by investigators said the pressure to improve performance at the shipyard reached such levels that he feared someone would hurt Thomas.
"He believed that at some point someone was going to 'snap under pressure' being applied by" Thomas, the report said.
The shipyard repairs, overhauls and modernizes ships and submarines. Thomas took command there in September 2010 after the previous commanding officer, Capt. William Kiestler, was removed because of a loss of confidence in him that revolved around critical maintenance work and declining shipyard performance.
Navy investigators received a complaint about Thomas being abusive toward subordinates in April and temporarily reassigned him in May while it investigated the allegations.
Before the complaints, Thomas had been selected for the rank of rear admiral. Thomas previously served as commander of Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard in Hawaii where the Navy touted his experience improving efficiency to return ships and submarines to the fleet on time, on budget and with high quality repairs.
The investigative report said Thomas set an uncompromising high standard and that he inferred to investigators that his style caused some bruised egos among his management team. He said there was resentment by some of them by his hands on, detail-oriented approach to the command.
The report noted several people interviewed by investigators found that Thomas always acted in a professional manner and that some of the complaints didn't rise to the level of inappropriate behavior. Of 45 witnesses who were interviewed, nine said they were subjected to demeaning, insulting or profane language or intimidating behavior. The report noted one person cried after being told by Thomas over the telephone that she was the worst administrative person he's ever seen. It was such a loud conversation that at least one other person could overhear what Thomas said.
"It is clear from the evidence presented, that many of the individuals identified above suffered unwarranted personal or professional embarrassment ...," the report said. "His frequent use of profanity, yelling, intimidation, and threats of firing while addressing their performance of assigned duties was injurious to their sensibilities and not what a reasonable man would expect to have to endure from their leader."
In one case, a woman said Thomas hit her on the left shoulder several times after approaching her to speak about a late inspection for the USS Norfolk.
"(Redacted) stated that she knew from his demeanor and tone 'that he was upset.' She remembers that he used the 'F' word to emphasize his point. As he spoke to her, he hit her on her shoulder several times with his open cupped hand, the exact number of times she could not recall, but he hit her sufficiently hard as to cause her to experience some 'pain,'" a Navy investigator wrote.
It wasn't immediately clear whether the woman was a contractor or in the Navy. Her name, along with all of the others except Thomas', was redacted.
Thomas said he didn't hit the woman.
"I did not harshly pound (redacted) on the shoulder as I am alleged to have done sometime in February," he wrote to investigators in a statement submitted through an attorney. "I adamantly deny the allegation. It did not happen."
Investigators said the woman was a credible witness, her recollection of what happened was clear and she complained to a supervisor shortly after it happened.
The Navy has not filed assault charges against Thomas. He has been reassigned to administrative duties.
Online: Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis