The court-martial for a former Parris Island drill instructor has been downgraded without any official explanation.
Sgt. Michael Eldridge is accused of taking part in a July 2015 incident in which fellow drill instructor Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix allegedly ordered a Muslim recruit to sit inside a commercial dryer. Felix is accused of turning on the dryer several times while insulting the recruit’s religion.
In April, Training and Education Command referred Eldridge to a general court-martial, which is the highest level of court-martial reserved for the most serious allegations of misconduct. Maximum sentences include confinement for more than a year, reduction in rank to E-1 and a dishonorable discharge.
But Maj. Gen. Kevin Iiams, head of TECOM, recently agreed to allow Eldridge to be tried before a summary court-martial, the command announced on Aug. 30. Such courts-martial are typically used for relatively minor offenses and can result in a maximum punishment of 30 days’ confinement and loss of rank. Summary courts-martial are also not open to the press or public.
The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette first reported on Sept. 2 that Eldridge would face a summary instead of a general court-martial.
Eldridge is no longer charged with making a false official statement, according to a comparison of TECOM’s April and August news releases. He still faces charges of cruelty and maltreatment, failure to obey a general order and disorderly conduct.
A TECOM spokesman declined to elaborate on why Iiams allowed Eldridge to appear before a summary court-martial or if Eldridge has reached a plea agreement with prosecutors.
“The command will not be able to provide any additional information before the conclusion of the proceedings,” Capt. Joshua Pena said on Tuesday.
Pena also declined to say whether Eldridge might testify for the prosecution at Felix’s court-martial, which is slated to begin on Oct. 30 at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Felix is also charged in connection with the March 18, 2016, death of recruit Raheel Siddiqui, who jumped to his death moments after Felix allegedly slapped him.
A total of seven Marines have been referred to courts-martial in connection with investigations into abuse and hazing at Parris Island. Two of the three investigations were ongoing when Siddiqui died.
So far, the cases of four former drill instructors not involved with the Siddiqui investigation have been completed: Staff Sgt. Antonio Burke was sentenced to be reduced in rank to sergeant and reprimanded; Staff Sgt. Jose Lucena-Martinez received administrative punishment; Staff Sgt. Matthew T. Bacchus was sentenced to 60 days’ restriction; and Sgt. Riley R. Gress was found not guilty of all charges.