Despite Marine Raider Gunnery Sergeants Danny Draher and Josh Negron being found not guilty of charges of manslaughter and negligent homicide by a jury of their peers on February 1, 2023, Marine Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC) leadership is attempting to strip them of their Raider badges.
The so-called MARSOC 3 cases involving Gunnery Sergeant Draher, Gunnery Sergeant Negron, and Chief Petty Officer Eric Gilmet involve allegations stemming from an incident that took place in Erbil, Kurdistan (Northern Iraq) on New Year’s Eve, 2018, in which the Marine Raiders got into an altercation with an American civilian contractor, Rick Rodriguez.
The altercation was captured on nearby security cameras. Despite the overwhelming evidence of the MARSOC 3 acting in self-defense and the defense of others, Gunnery Sergeant Draher and Gunnery Sergeant Negron were charged with involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide, obstructing justice, and violations of orders. Chief Gilmet’s charges are similar, but the government opted to try him separately to gain a strategic advantage.
After enduring their legal battle for more than four years, the accused Raiders were subjected to one of the longest courts-martial in Marine Corps history, spanning January and February of 2023.
Despite several original charges being thrown out during trial because the government could not meet the burden of proof, all remaining charges went to the jury — including the most serious of manslaughter and negligent homicide. The jury returned not guilty verdicts of all the serious charges on February 1, 2023. Unfortunately, the jury did find the Raiders guilty of violating an order not to drink alcohol in Iraq at the general court-martial.
They were found guilty of drinking while in Iraq even though others on that deployment were rumored to have also consumed alcohol.
The result for Gunnery Sergeants Draher and Negron? They are now felons.
On February 9, 2023, more than two dozen sitting members of Congress submitted a signed letter to MARSOC Commander, Major General Matthew G. Trollinger, requesting that he exercise his clemency power to dismiss the felony charge. They referenced that even the trial judge, Lieutenant Colonel E.A. Catto, recommended that Trollinger grant them clemency. The punishment did not fit the “crime.”
Without talking to their lawyers, without talking to Gunnery Sergeants Draher or Negron, Major General Trollinger responded that the felony conviction will stand.
To add insult to injury, on June 12, 2023, Gunnery Sergeants Draher and Negron were notified of a new recommendation. This one is for the permanent and involuntary removal of their Marine Special Operations Insignia (MSOI), otherwise known as a Raider badge. The listed basis was their Relief for Cause and the conviction. The Relief for Cause was based on the allegations for which they were acquitted and the conviction for which they received No Punishment.
Both Raiders previously had their planned retirements approved by the Marine Raider Regiment command, but Maj. Gen. Trollinger unilaterally changed their retirement dates to September 2023.
For both Gunnery Sergeants Draher and Negron — who are otherwise eligible for retirement after more than 20 years of honorable service — it looks like MARSOC’s next move will be to recommend that the Commandant of the Marine Corps reduce their rank upon retirement with a less than honorable discharge. If reduced in rank at retirement, they stand to lose over six figures in retirement income.
Such a move would deny two decorated Marine Raiders some retirement benefits, but perhaps more significantly, it would be another twist of the knife from their own brotherhood that they have belonged to for their entire adult lives.
Initially, all charges against Chief Gilmet were dismissed with prejudice on February 9, 2022, because of unlawful command influence by one of the Marine Corps’ top lawyers. Then on August 15, 2022, the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals (NMCCA) overturned the trial judge’s dismissal, and the charges were reinstated. Chief Gilmet appealed to the United States Court of Appeals of the Armed Forces (CAAF) — a panel of civilian judges appointed by the President.
Oral arguments occurred at the CAAF in Washington, D.C., on April 18, 2023. CAAF judges heard arguments on whether the trial judge committed an error and whether the actions against Chief Gilmet’s team placed an intolerable strain on the public’s perception of the military justice system. I expect results anytime now.
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