Two Marine Raiders and a Navy corpsman with 3rd Raider Battalion face a general court-martial for charges related to the death of a retired Green Beret working as a Lockheed Martin defense contractor in Erbil, Iraq.
Gunnery Sgt. Joshua Negron, Gunnery Sgt. Daniel Draher and Chief Petty Officer Eric Gilmet face charges that include involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide, obstructing justice and orders violations, according to Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command.
The charges stem from an alleged fight outside of an Erbil, Iraq, nightclub in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day, Jan. 1, 2019, that resulted in the death of Rick Anthony Rodriguez, a retired Army Special Forces master sergeant with multiple combat deployments who once served as operations sergeant for Operation Detachment Alpha Team 775.
“At this time, charges against three members of MARSOC in connection with the death of Mr. Rodriguez have been referred to a general court-martial,” according to a Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command email statement. “During this process, it is imperative that the rights of the service members are protected, and the integrity of the military justice system is maintained. We are committed to ensuring this process is conducted in a fair and impartial manner.”
The former Green Beret's death is the latest in a series of misconduct to hit the special operations community.
Phillip Stackhouse, attorney for Draher, described statements and video footage presented at an Article 32 hearing in September; charges were referred in early December. Arraignments are being scheduled for each of the defendants.
“To me it’s overcharging for the circumstances that took place,” Stackhouse said.
Draher shared in a statement through his attorney with Marine Corps Times that while he and others involved acted in self-defense, Rodriguez’s death was nonetheless tragic and, “I wish his family and friends did not have to feel the pain and sorrow that I am sure they do.”
Attorneys for Negron and Gilmet did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
When Stackhouse spoke with Marine Corps Times he referred to both his client and the co-defendants only by their initials, due to the sensitive nature of the individuals’ work.
Based on what was shared at the September hearing, witnesses made statements and video evidence showed that Rodriguez and other defense contractors were celebrating the new year in the off-base nightclub.
Negron, Draher and Gilmet reportedly arrived at the club. Gilmet and Roridguez spoke initially. Later that night, security camera footage appeared to show Rodriguez visibly angry and shouting at Gilmet.
Rodriguez was escorted from the club by security, Stackhouse said, where he and his colleagues waited outside.
Outside of the club, Draher told the court in a statement, he, Negron and Gilmet approached Rodriguez to resolve the argument.
Draher allegedly walked up to Rodriguez, who lunged at him, Draher said he thought that Rodriguez was going to head-butt him so he shoved him back with one hand to the chest.
That’s when Rodriguez made a wide swing at Draher, Stackhouse said. It’s not clear whether the swing struck Draher, but Rodriguez then cocked back to swing again at Draher. Mid-swing, Negron stepped in and punched Rodriguez once, knocking him to the ground.
Rodriguez was unconscious. The crowd began to back away. Gilmet reportedly checked on Rodriguez, turned him on his side because he’d been knocked out and appeared intoxicated.
Much of the rest of the people dispersed, Stackhouse said. Draher, Negron and Gilmet loaded Rodriguez into their vehicle to take him back to their base.
“They basically checked him out, ensure he was breathing and everything looked okay with him,” Stackhouse said. “(Gilmet) stayed with him quite a bit of time, the guy was clearly intoxicated. They didn’t want him to aspirate on his own vomit.”
They took him to temporary housing, where Gilmet observed him to ensure he was alright. He asked a roommate to keep an eye on him later that morning while he got food and changed clothes. A short time later, the roommate told Gilmet that something was wrong with Rodriguez.
They began immediate emergency medical procedures, Stackhouse said. And then loaded him on a truck to take him to a medical facility.
Rodriguez was later transported to Landstuhl, Germany, and removed from life support a few days later.
Naval Criminal Investigative Service launched an investigation into the incident. Draher, Negron and Gilmet were sent home before the end of their tour.
This is the full statement provided to Marine Corps Times by Draher through his attorney:
“I am disappointed that my command decided to charge me and my colleagues with Mr. Rodriguez’s death. What happened on January 1, 2019 was an accident, not brought on by our actions – but unfortunately by the actions of Mr. Rodriguez. As we have said from the beginning, and is captured on video, Mr. Rodriguez attacked me in a drunken state. My colleagues and I reacted only in self-defense, once the fight was over it was me and my colleagues - not his friends- who took him back to our base for safety. The fact that Mr. Rodriguez passed away is nothing short of tragic and I wish his family and friends did not have to feel the pain and sorrow that I am sure they do. In the end, I have to trust the system in which I find myself. I would have much preferred to have had the trust and support of my command.”
Stackhouse said that the underlying allegation linked to the obstruction charge was likely because the men took Rodriguez to housing rather than immediately to a medical facility, and other charges included curfew violation for staying out past midnight and allegations of consuming alcohol while deployed in theater.