The abuse scandal at the Marine Corps' East Coast training depot at Parris Island, South Carolina, widened on Tuesday as charges against three Marines were referred to a special court-martial and a fourth Marine will appear before an Article 32 hearing stemming from investigations into allegations of abuse.

Marine Corps Training and Education Command announced the following Marines assigned to Parris Island have been charged with violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice:

  • Staff Sgt. Matthew T. Bacchus was charged with maltreatment, violation of a lawful order and making a false official statement.
  • Staff Sgt. Jose Lucena-Martinez was charged with failure to obey a lawful general order and making a false official statement.
  • Sgt. Riley R. Gress was charged with maltreatment, failure to obey a lawful order and making a false official statement.
The three Marines will face special courts-martial, which is a mid-level court venue that can punish convicted Marines with a maximum confinement up to one year in the brig.

A staff sergeant whose name TECOM is withholding will face an Article 32 hearing on accusations of cruelty and maltreatment, failure to obey a lawful general order and making a false official statement, a TECOM news release says.

An Article 32 hearing, which is similar to a civilian court's grand jury proceeding, will review the evidence and help determine whether the Marine ultimately faces a court-martial.

None of the allegations are in connection with the investigation into the March 18 suicide of recruit Raheel Siddiqui, a Muslim Marine recruit who jumped to his death during boot camp at Parris Island after he was hazed and struck by his drill instructor.

Siddiqui's death sparked outrage on Capitol Hill and focused national attention on allegations of hazing at the Marine Corps' boot camp.

After Siddiqui's death, the Marines launched two investigations into misconduct by drill instructors.  A third investigation, which was ongoing at the time of Siddiqui's death, looked into allegations of hazing in 2015. It was ultimately combined with the other two.

Up to 20 Marines at Parris Island could be charged or face administrative punishment for allegations of abuse against Siddiqui and others.

Maj. Gen. James Lukeman, head of TECOM, said the command has taken the allegations of misconduct by these Marines very seriously.

"As proceedings move forward, we will continue to maintain the integrity of the legal process while remaining transparent," Lukeman said in a statement on Tuesday. "The Marine Corps Recruit Depots Parris Island and San Diego transform the best of our nation's young men and women into U.S. Marines.  The safety of our recruits and the integrity of the Marine Corps recruit training program remain our priority."

Parris Island has been under an uncomfortable microscope since Siddiqi vaulted over the railing of a barracks stairwell and fell nearly 40 feet to his death after a drill instructor slapped him. He was assigned to the 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, where drill instructors often slapped and choked recruits while justifying the physical abuse as "drill corrections," an investigation into his death found.

Although his death was ruled a suicide, an investigation was unable to determine whether Siddiqui was trying to kill himself or if he was trying to get away from the drill instructor who slapped him.

One of Siddiqui's drill instructors had been accused of hazing another Muslim recruit in a separate incident in 2015. The drill instructor allegedly made the recruit exercise in the shower, ordered him to get into a commercial dryer and then it turned it on several times while insulting his religion, an investigation found. At one point, the drill instructor allegedly asked the recruit if he took part in the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Siddiqui's family issued a statement on Tuesday through their attorney Shiraz K. Khan saying they were told in October that charges would likely be filed against "many individuals" in the coming weeks.

"In light of recent charges against three Marines being referred to a special court martial, we are eager to receive updates regarding the progress of filing charges in the death of Raheel Siddiqui," Khan said in the statement.

"We are well aware of the magnitude, sensitivity, and credibility of the evidence obtained and held in this case. However, despite our continued efforts, almost nine months later, the family is still searching for answers. We have still not received any material updates nor have we met with NCIS [Naval Criminal Investigative Service] officials regarding the matter." 

In September, Marine Commandant Robert Neller said the majority of drill instructors and other personnel assigned to recruit training follow the rules on turning recruits into Marines.

Not speaking specifically about the investigation into Siddiqui's death, Neller said the Marine Corps has never permitted abuse of recruits.

"Recruit training is designed to be tough and demanding," Neller told Marine Corps Times in a Sept. 16 interview. "That's why young men and women join the Marine Corps, because they want to be challenged and tested. I have every confidence that the drill instructors that are out there both at Parris Island and San Diego understand that. 

"They are working extremely hard and they've very proud of the effort they've put forward to take young men and women who are civilians and turning them into basically trained Marines."

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