The commander of California’s 1st Marine Division was rebuked by a military appeals court for his “personal interest” and bias in overseeing a hazing court-martial.
Last week the United States Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals upheld an August ruling that found that Maj. Gen. Eric M. Smith showed bias because of some of his extreme efforts to stamp out hazing.
“A reasonable observer would conclude that the [CA]’s ego is closely connected to the offense, and thus he has a personal interest in the matter,” the judge said.
Last summer Smith launched a full-fledged crusade to combat hazing within 1st Marine Division. Nearly 30 Marines were confined to the brig over hazing allegations and up to 16 were separated from the service.
The Washington Times was first to report on the published opinion from the appeals court.
Sgt. Jamie Ortiz was one of the Marines caught in the general’s path.
On July 13, 2017, Ortiz was placed in pretrial confinement stemming from allegations that he hazed five junior Marines and assaulted two others. Smith referred the case to trial in August, with himself as the convening authority.
However a military judge in August ruled Smith’s crusade and tirade of emails to staff and commanders throughout the division to smack down hazing made Smith a biased accuser and not a convening authority. As a result the charges against Ortiz were dropped.
On July 12, in an email to commanders and sergeant majors in the division Smith stated, “[T]he Marine Corps owns the barracks, not a few salty LCpls who probably can’t fight their way out of a wet paper sack. We’re the [1st MarDiv], victors at Guadalcanal, and we’re reduced to dealing with jackassery from a few LCpls who think they are in charge. That will be proven wrong asap. We have 12 dead Marines in a KC-130 crash . . . and these few LCpls who haze can’t even pay them the respect our Commandant has asked for . . . [.]”
Smith pushed hard to oust Marines accused of hazing, and sometimes acted against the accused before law enforcement and an investigative process started.
He fast-tracked hazing investigations and ordered that they be completed within seven days, even if other agencies had not completed their own investigations.
Mistreat a Marine or sailor and you’re gone, Smith said to commanders and staff.
“Substantiated [hazing] cases will result in mandatory processing for separation.”
In a slew of emails, the general threatened to cut training across the division if commanders didn’t act against hazing.
In what the appellate judges felt was the most troubling remark, Smith openly admitted he was offended by the hazing incidents.
“I’ve just been flipped the bird by lots of LCpls, so I’m headed there [sic] way to demonstrate this is an unwise [course of action],” Smith said in an email to staff and commanders.
The appeals court upheld the firing of Smith as the convening authority and the dismissal of charges against Ortiz.
“MajGen Smith’s statements suggest that he was personally offended by those alleged to have violated his hazing policy,” the appellate judges said. “He repeatedly emphasized that he would show those accused of hazing who was really in charge.”
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.