March 17, 2010

Navy security officers face military trial

By DENNIS HOEY Staff Writer


Staff Writer

BRUNSWICK — Two Navy security officers stationed in Brunswick will face courts-martial in the case of a sailor who fatally shot himself.

Petty Officer 1st Class Mitchell R. Tafel, 33, and Petty Officer 1st Class David C. Rodriguez, 30, have been charged with dereliction of duty and reckless endangerment, according to John James, spokesman for the Brunswick Naval Air Station.

They are accused of violating the Navy's Uniform Code of Military Justice, infractions the Navy alleges led to the suicide of 21-year-old Christopher Lee Purcell.

The suicide took place Jan. 27 on the base, at Purcell's apartment on Pegasus Street, but the Navy Criminal Investigative Service has refused to discuss what happened.

This week, the Brunswick Police Department released a 42-page incident report that contains detailed police and witness accounts of what did take place. Police were called to the base after Purcell shot himself.

Police Sgt. Thomas E. Garrepy said Tafel and Rodriguez were part of a team of security officers who responded to a report that Purcell had been drinking and was having suicidal thoughts.

Garrepy said a struggle took place between Purcell and base security outside the apartment, and restraints were placed on his hands. When the officers went inside to get a jacket for Purcell, he asked if he could use the bathroom.

A member of the base medical team accompanied Purcell to the bathroom, where ''he reached toward his waistband, pulled out a Ruger revolver, and shot himself in the chest,'' according to the police report.

Brunswick Police Detective. Sgt. Martin Rinaldi, in his report, said that Rodriguez performed a ''pat-down'' search of Purcell's chest area but did not check below the waist.

In the bathroom, Nathan G. Mutschler, Purcell's supervisor at the base medical clinic, stood behind Purcell as he used the toilet, according to Brunswick Police Detective Russell Wrede's report.

The security team had freed one of Purcell's hands by removing a handcuff.

As Purcell was zipping up his pants, Mutschler told Wrede he heard a clicking sound and thought that ''Purcell was playing with the handcuffs.''

Mutschler yelled ''Chris!'' when he realized that Purcell was holding a handgun against his chest.

Tafel and Rodriguez will remain on active duty, pending their trial before a military court.

James said the court could impose a wide range of penalties, from up to one year's confinement to a bad-conduct discharge, as well as the loss of pay and rank.

''The suicide was tragic and unfortunate. Our thoughts and our prayers go out to (Purcell's) family,'' James said.

James said Tafel and Rodriguez will be defended by lawyers from the Navy's Judge Advocate General's Corps in Groton, Conn.

Attempts to reach both men at their homes were unsuccessful. James said their lawyers have advised the men against speaking publicly.

John Moncure, a Brunswick-based attorney, a retired Navy captain and a former member of the Navy's JAG team, said the ''special court-martial'' charges facing Tafel and Rodriguez are lesser offenses when viewed in the context of the civilian legal arena.

''They are analogous to a case that would go before our District Court, as opposed to a Superior Court case,'' Moncure said.

The location of the trial will be determined by the base commander, Capt. George Womack.

Moncure said the court will consist of five people. Court members do not have to be Navy officers. The defendants could request that enlisted personnel be appointed to the court.

James said Purcell was from the Midwest. His father, an active-duty Navy officer, lives in the Chicago area.

Purcell worked as a corpsman at the base's medical clinic. He lived alone in a two-bedroom apartment.

Wrede noted in his report that other sailors were aware of Purcell's ''alcohol dependency and diagnosed depression.''

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 386-0320 or at:

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