The Navy is investigating prisoner-abuse allegations leveled against at least five corrections officers at the military detention facility in Chesapeake, Virginia, Navy Times has learned.
One of the complainants is Lt. Cmdr. Edward Lin, who is awaiting trial on charges he leaked national security secrets to the Taiwanese government. The other is Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Zane Josi, who was acquitted in August of sexual assault charges and is now back with the Coast Guard.
In separate affidavits filed in September with the Navy and Marine Corps Central Judicial Circuit, two inmates have accused the guards, a team of sailors and Marines whom they nicknamed "the Goon Squad," of committing various offenses against them and others confined in the Chesapeake brig. The inmates say they witnessed a sailor locked in solitary confinement without proper cause, that they were forced to go outside in freezing temperatures without coats or sweaters, and that their cells were targeted for intrusive inspections after complaining about this and other alleged mistreatment.
The inmates' complaints, obtained by Navy Times, are part of an internal investigation, according to a statement from Navy Personnel Command, which is the governing authority for the brig. The command has already sent representatives to the brig to investigate the allegations of misconduct.
"The Navy takes all prisoner complaints about the conduct of Brig staff seriously and that is why we sent a Navy Judge Advocate General's Corps (JAG Corps) Captain and a Senior Correctional Program Specialist from Navy Personnel Command to investigate these allegations in October 2016," said Cmdr. Jodie Cornell, an NPC spokeswoman. "We are conducting a full investigation of these allegations, but we do not discuss the details of our on-going investigations."
"Treating all service members with dignity and respect is something we take extremely seriously, and when there are any indications that those values are not being followed, we will conduct appropriate investigations and take action as necessary."
Naval Criminal Investigative Service has also opened an investigation into the complaints, according to a Navy official, but declined to comment further on an ongoing investigation.
The guards involved are not fully named in the affidavits and Navy Times was unable to verify their identities by press time. No charges have been filed in connection with the allegations as of Thursday.
Lin's court-martial is scheduled for next spring. The high-profile espionage case is headed to court martial in March after he pleaded not guilty to spying charges in May.
The guards' alleged behavior toward them has been "sadistic, unprofessional and abusive," Josi wrote in his affidavit.
Lin, who has been confined since September of 2015, described living in fear of them. "They terrorized me and most of the other pretrial detainees for almost my whole time here," Lin said in the affidavit. "... Every day that I knew the Goon Squad was coming online it would cause a visceral feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. It was not an environment of security, dignity and respect. It was an environment of degradation."
The Chesapeake Consolidated Brig is a medium-security prison that currently houses 100 inmates — 11 pretrial detainees and 89 post-trial prisoners, said Cornell. The offenses for prisoners range from theft to assault and battery, Cornell said. The military's maximum security prison is in Leavenworth, Kansas
Both investigations center on the five-man guard team, according to Josi and Lin's statements. It was led by a petty officer first class, an enlisted sailor and supervisor who would be expected to uphold and enforce the regulations governing prison staff. They were split up in June, but the guards continued to threaten and abuse inmates individually, according to both affidavits.
Josi and Lin submitted their affidavits as part of a separate case concerning another sailor who is confined at the Chesapeake brig: Samuel Perkins, an airman apprentice.
Lin and Josi allege that one of the guards denied Penkins access to his cell, demanding he say "please" first even though that was not required as part of the prison's rules. Perkins maintained a cool demeanor but was put in solitary confinement and falsely accused of disrespecting the guard, Josi and Lin allege in their affidavits.
"What the Goon Squad was doing is cruelty and maltreatment," Josi wrote. "I don't know any other way to describe it. Perkins was the focus of a lot of abuse, but it happened to everyone. I felt like the Goon Squad targeted the pretrial guys especially because they knew we would not be able to defend ourselves and still look good for our court cases."
Lin claims he testified on Perkins' behalf at the resulting disciplinary hearing but that Perkins was punished nonetheless.
Josi's affidavit describes a series of alleged measures he considered humiliating. The guards, he wrote, ordered the prisoners into formation and instructed them to start and stop marching arbitrarily.
"There was no rhyme or reason other than they seemed to be entertained by doing that to us," Josi wrote. "But it was degrading."
Lin's affidavit also includes this claim. He and Josi also allege the guards would "toss" their cells, which meant guards would rake through their personal items and bed linens searching for contraband. Lin said Perkins told him that a member of the guard team confiscated a notebook labeled "attorney-client privileged," according to Lin's statement. When the prisoner complained to get the notebook back, he was allegedly told there was no notebook, the document says.
Prisoners would complain to their chain of commands through official correspondence, called 5-10 forms, but their complaints would either go unheeded or a member of the brig staff would come yell at the prisoner that "the guards are always right," Lin's affidavit says.
Josi's statement indicates he knew "for a fact" that many prisoners had filed complaint forms against the five guards and that those documents should still be in the brig's possession. But submission of those forms were met with reprisal from the guards, according to his affidavit. A prisoner who filed a complaint could expect to get their room "tossed," the document says.
"So that made it scarier for us to make a complaint and chilled us from doing it as often as we should have," he wrote.
Josi was released from the brig and has returned to duty with the Coast Guard. He blamed the brig's leadership for its guard's alleged behavior.
"There is no doubt in my mind that leadership enabled the Goon Squad to abuse us," Josi wrote in his affidavit. "There is no way they could have gotten away with this so pervasively without being enabled, especially when we complained."
Lin wrote in his affidavit that most of the brig staff does treat prisoners with respect, but that the guards in question are an exception.
"Even pretrial detainees deserve to be treated with some dignity," Lin wrote. "Clearly most of the staff understands that because the vast majority of guards treat us with dignity and respect. It is only the Goon Squad and a few enablers who do not."