BNAS suicide report released — (The Times Record)

SSRI Ed note: Young man on Paxil announces he is suicidal, has been drinking, he shoots himself while under supervision.

Original article no longer available

The Times Record



Two base security officers charged and now face special court martial

BRUNSWICK ­ Two Brunswick Naval Air Station security officers are charged with dereliction of duty and reckless endangerment and will face a special court martial for violations of the Navy’s Uniform Code of Military Justice following a Navy investigation into the in-custody suicide of a 21-year-old corpsman in January.

The charges stem from the investigation into the death of 21-year-old Navy corpsman Christopher Purcell, who shot himself Jan. 27 at his Pegasus Street barracks.

Petty Officer 1st Class Mitchell R. Tafel, 33, and Petty Officer 1st Class David C. Rodriguez, 30, both masters-at-arms, are charged with violating Article 92, Dereliction of Duty, and Article 134, Reckless Endangerment, of the code, BNAS spokesman John James said Monday.

The charges stem from the investigation into the death of 21-year-old Navy corpsman Christopher Purcell, who shot himself Jan. 27 at his Pegasus Street barracks.

Purcell had been handcuffed by security personnel, but was released from handcuffs to use the bathroom without having been completely searched, according to a Brunswick Police Department incident report released Friday. Accompanied to the bathroom not by security personnel, but by his supervisor at the BNAS Medical Clinic who said he did so because no one else was apparently going with him, Purcell pulled a gun from his pants and fatally shot himself in the chest.

The Brunswick Police Department incident report of the Jan. 27 shooting was released after being held for more than three months at the request of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

Brunswick police arrived at the base on the night of Purcell’s death after he had already shot himself. They collected witness statements until some time on Jan. 28, when police turned over the investigation to NCIS at the Navy’s request. Investigations by NCIS, BNAS and other agencies continue, according to the Navy, and no information has been released about those investigations.

According to witness statements and narratives contained in the Brunswick Police Department report, Purcell had called a co-worker at the base medical clinic at about 8:30 p.m. and “told her that he was having suicidal thoughts … he mentioned to her that he wanted to end it all and had the means to do so,” including a gun he had purchased three weeks earlier, according to the reports.

Witnesses said that at 9 p.m., an ambulance was requested to stand by near Purcell’s barracks. Security personnel, including Tafel and Rodriguez, responded to a call from base dispatch that Purcell, a 21-year-old corpsman, was possibly suicidal.

“We were instructed that the individual possibly had a weapon,” Rodriguez said in a statement that night, which was included in the report.

Security officers spoke with Purcell to assess his mental status, and following a struggle in which Purcell was forced to the ground, someone ­ witness statements vary on this point ­ placed Purcell in handcuffs.

According to a report by Brunswick Police Detective Sgt. Martin Rinaldi, Rodriguez said that he had seen a “box of ammunition sitting on top of a nearby television stand (and) an open gun case that was sitting on the television stand in close proximity to the ammunition.”

Purcell told Tafel that he had been drinking heavily and was taking the prescription drug Paxil for depression, Rinaldi reported.

But despite the empty gun case, rounds of ammunition in plain sight, and evidence that Purcell was drinking and taking anti-depressant medication, no one apparently searched him. Rodriguez told Rinaldi that he conducted a “pat-down” of Purcell’s upper chest area “because that was all that he could reach from where he was standing,” Rinaldi wrote.

“I do not recall who may have searched him,” Tafel said in a statement that night to Brunswick police. “I do recall he was resisting and we didn’t search him prior to the incident. I also did not feel anything protruding from any area of his body I had come in contact with.” Tafel later said, “I don’t know if the bathroom was searched prior to Purcell using it.”

On Tafel’s order, according to several statements, Purcell was eventually released from his handcuffs to use the bathroom. In an interview with Brunswick Police Detective Russell Wrede, Nathan Mutschler, Purcell’s supervisor at the BNAS Medical Clinic, said he accompanied Purcell to the bathroom only because “no one else followed him so (I decided) I guess I will do it.”

“As Purcell finished urinating, he reached toward his waistband, pulled out a Ruger Revolver, and shot himself in the chest,” Brunswick Police Sgt. Thomas Garrepy, the first Brunswick officer to the scene that night, reported that he was told.

On whose orders?

According to Rinaldi’s report, “Rodriguez made the decision to remove Mr. Purcell from the premises for safety reasons” based on the information received from dispatch, the empty gun case and ammunition. But when Rinaldi asked Rodriguez who was responsible for Purcell after he was handcuffed, Rodriguez said Tafel “took control of the situation.

“I reminded Mr. Rodriguez that he said he had searched Mr. Purcell after the arrest,” Rinaldi wrote. “I then asked if the arresting officer or anyone else conducted a search of Mr. Purcell’s person. Mr. Rodriguez said that nobody else searched the prisoner because he was not considered a threat at that point,” Rinaldi wrote. Yet Tafel, who had already spoken to Rinaldi at this point, told Rinaldi that they were looking for a firearm Purcell supposedly had.

Another security officer concurred that Tafel “took charge,” noting that Tafel instructed him to remove one of Purcell’s hands from the restraints, and that Tafel instructed a corpsman to accompany Purcell to the bathroom because Purcell didn’t want security to go with him. Tafel denied being the commanding officer on scene, and gave Rinaldi conflicting accounts of who put Purcell in handcuffs. Tafel and Rodriguez also gave statements that Rinaldi wrote were “in direct contradiction” regarding where Rodriguez was when the gun went off.


Wrede’s narrative states that on Jan. 30, 2008, he spoke to NCIS special agent Heather Ryan about a number of issues, including Wrede’s background as a retired U.S. Marine Corps military police officer, and that Wrede offered to assist NCIS in the investigation in any way.

“It is a statement of fact that numerous sailors from Purcell’s command were aware of Purcell’s alcohol dependency and diagnosed depression,” Wrede wrote. “However, the senior enlisted leadership allowed Purcell to live alone in a 2 bedroom barracks room. It is a basic tenant of leadership to know your people and look out for their welfare, but Purcell did not have the luxury of interaction with others while on duty.”

James would not comment on specific details of the charges facing the two masters at arms, but said “specifics will come out prior to the trial.” Asked about the training of both private and military security personnel, he said, “Force protection guidelines do not permit us to discuss specific security personnel force and training issues. In accordance with Navy guidelines and instructions, all NAS Brunswick security and law enforcement personnel have received training for apprehension and detention.”

Asked if any other personnel responding to the Jan. 27 incident had been disciplined, James said “two civilian security personnel are no longer at Naval Air Station Brunswick,” but he would not say who was no longer employed or why.

Tafel and Rodriguez could have faced a Captain’s Mast, a local, in-house disciplinary hearing, or any of three levels of court martial, ranging from in severity from summary to special to general, James said. The maximum penalty for the special court martial is up to 12 months confinement; forfeiture of up to two-thirds pay for up to 12 months; and/or a bad conduct discharge ­ which is not as severe as a dishonorable discharge, James said. Court martial proceedings must be completed within 120 days of the date charges are filed. The date and location of the trial was not available as of press time. Both men have been assigned defense counsel based in Groton, Conn., and have declined to speak to media, James said.

“Both Master-at-Arms remain on active duty at BNAS, and will continue to be on active duty through the special court martial process,” James said.

BNAS Commanding Officer Capt. George Womack declined, through James, to speak about any aspect of the case because he is the convening authority of the court martial.

Calls to NCIS Public Affairs officer Ed Buice in Washington, D.C. during the past week were not returned.