The Navy commander who was fired in April from her position as skipper of the Norfolk-based amphibious ship Ponce gave preferential treatment to female officers and repeatedly put her crew's safety at risk, according to an investigation report released Wednesday.
Cmdr. Etta Jones, who took command of the transport dock in October 2010, was removed while the ship was on deployment in the Mediterranean Sea. The Navy took action after a member of the crew submitted an anonymous complaint alleging that Jones also verbally abused and demeaned subordinates, failed to report incidents of hazing, and mishandled the ship, various safety procedures and a loaded weapon.
The investigation report, obtained by The Virginian-Pilot through the Freedom of Information Act, says all of those allegations were found to be true.
It says there was a widespread perception among the Ponce's officers that Jones favored women. She gave certain female officers better watch schedules, allowed them to miss watches, failed to reprimand them for violations, invited them to her stateroom for special meetings and movie nights, allowed them to use her car while in port, and bought them gifts, the report says.
"Her preferential treatment caused the recipients to be uncomfortable and created a divide in the wardroom between those favored and those who were not," the report says.
It says she verbally abused and degraded other officers by calling them names, sometimes in front of enlisted sailors. Male officers told investigators that Jones threatened to defecate on them or tie their testicles in knots if they failed to perform according to her standards.
On numerous occasions, the report says, Jones directed sailors to engage in unsafe ship-handling procedures that clearly went against standards. Other times, she distracted officers at critical times.
The report offers an example: "While navigating the Suez Canal at night with heavy shipping traffic, the C.O. came to the bridge and ordered the [officer of the deck] to explain why her laptop computer had been closed."
The report states that when officers tried to explain that Jones' directions weren't safe, she "would ignore the advice and direct that her orders be carried out."
The report details one especially egregious incident that took place on April 13, after a member of the crew reported a suspicious package that was quickly determined to be a harmless training aid. Though Jones knew it was a false alarm, the report says, she was angry she hadn't been notified of the training, so she ordered the ship to remain at a heightened state of alert with weapons at the ready.
She went to her stateroom to retrieve her 9 mm sidearm from its safe. When two sailors reported to her stateroom, she pointed the gun at them and then gestured with it in her hand. "The C.O. then set the weapon on her desk and told [the sailors] that she is 'old school' and wanted to keep the gun 'locked and ready to go.' "
She told the sailors to take her gun to the armory to clear it, and when one of them picked it up, he realized that the safety had been off the whole time.
The Ponce's then-executive officer, Lt. Cmdr. Kurt Boenisch, was also removed from the ship in April. The investigation found that he failed to correct or report Jones' misbehavior and also failed to thoroughly investigate allegations of misconduct by other officers aboard.
Jones directed questions to her attorney, Grover Baxley, who did not return a phone call Wednesday night.
Corinne Reilly, (757) 446-2949, email@example.com