Report: Officer removed after harassment claims
NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — The commanding officer of a Florida-based warship was removed from the post during an overseas deployment after several female crew members alleged that he sexually harassed women aboard ship, a Navy report shows.
Cmdr. Derick Armstrong was relieved of command in May, about six months after his promotion to the top job aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS The Sullivans. Of the 1,500 commanding officers in the Navy, 22 were removed from the job last year for various reasons.
Armstrong is among a dozen commanding officers removed so far this year.
The Navy has said Armstrong's removal was the result of an unprofessional command that was contrary to good order and discipline. Details of the sexual harassment allegations appeared in an investigative report obtained by The Associated Press on Monday through an open records request.
The report said Armstrong was surprised that he was being accused of sexual harassment and that he had denied many of the allegations raised. A message left with a Navy spokesman seeking comment from Armstrong was not immediately returned.
Among other things, the report says at least 10 crew members had seen Armstrong "check out" women on the ship in what they felt was a sexual manner. One crew member said he looked at her "like I am something to eat" and that after a female crew member briefed Armstrong, his eyes went "straight to her behind." Navy lawyers redacted the names of all crew members in the report but Armstrong's.
In response to a question about whether his crew would make something up, the report says Armstrong found his officers to be truthful and that none of them are vindictive.
The report also details allegations that Armstrong belittled officers and humiliated department heads in front of others.
"His inappropriate actions and language created a hostile command climate for his wardroom," Vice Adm. Frank Craig Pandolfe, commander of the Navy's 6th Fleet in Europe wrote upon review of the investigation.
Pandolfe also said Armstrong's "overly familiar relationships with enlisted members of his command demonstrated a lack of sound judgment."
The destroyer had been deployed under a NATO plan to provide a missile shield for Europe when Armstrong was tapped to serve as the ship's skipper.
He had previously served as the ship's second-in-command and was promoted after a previous commanding officer was relieved of his duties in September after a fishing vessel was mistaken for a target during a gunnery exercise in North Carolina waters.
The report says one female crewmember said Armstrong said: "Now that I'm taking over soon, what are my chances?" between five and 10 times before taking over as commanding officer, and said something similar at least twice after he started his new job. One female officer complained she was chosen to go aboard another ship for a cruise because of her looks.
Another crew member said that when she needed to adjust a monitor on the other side of a chair Armstrong was in that he didn't get out of the way or offer to do it for her, resulting in her being placed between his knees and reaching over him.
Another crew member reported that during a port visit, Armstrong said "One of you ladies has to come out with me tonight; I have to corrupt one of you."
The report says the Navy began investigating Armstrong's conduct in April after a crewmember filed a complaint with Naval Surface Force Atlantic in Norfolk, Va.
When Armstrong was removed as the ship's skipper, he was administratively reassigned to the staff of Destroyer Squadron 14. It wasn't immediately clear Monday whether he was still in that post.
Armstrong's Navy biography says he's a 1995 Naval Academy graduate from Atlanta.
Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis