Continued from page 1

As a result, the spokesman said, Lt. Leone cannot call the dismissal of criminal charges a full legal vindication even though the commanding officer decided not to pursue the lone charge and instead dismissed it.

“Rear Adm. [Thomas] Ostebo exercised his discretion as the convening authority and chose not to pursue criminal charges,” Mr. Diaz said.

Even though he did not pursue the charges, Adm. Ostebo wrote a derogatory report months later about Lt. Leone, which prompted the convening of the special board to reconsider his promotion.

“The Coast Guard has a responsibility to consider all information in a member’s record before assessing his ability to serve at the next rank,” Mr. Diaz said.

Lt. Leone and his attorneys have reached out to several senators on Capitol Hill to intervene on his behalf. Retiring Sen. Olympia J. Snowe sent a letter to Ms. Napolitano asking her to thoroughly review the matter, and the office of Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, said it is looking into the details of Lt. Leone’s case.

Coast Guard case

On July 7, 2010, Lt. Leone was the co-pilot of an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter flying from Astoria, Ore., to the crew’s base in Sitka, Alaska, when it hit an unmarked span of low-hanging wires near LaPush, Wash., and crashed into the water, killing the pilot and two crew members.

The pilot, Sean Krueger, made an unannounced dive over the mouth of the Quillayute River to look at a Coast Guard vessel below. Seconds later, the Jayhawk hit the 1,900-foot span of wires that provide electricity for a warning beacon on nearby James Island.

Lt. Leone, a Coast Guard academy graduate, managed to break free of the helicopter and make it to the surface. He spent the next several months recovering from a broken collar bone and the mental anguish of the traumatic crash.

Alaska’s district commander at the time of the accident passed the investigation down to the air station commander, who ordered Lt. Leone to go before an aviation evaluation board and made a comment in his flight record that he needed to improve his flight-communication techniques. But the same commander went on to write a six-page memo arguing against any criminal action.

Nevertheless, 14 months after the crash, a new Alaska commander, Adm. Ostebo, charged Lt. Leone with negligent homicide, dereliction of duty and destruction of government property. Lt. Leone faced 24 years in prison if convicted.

After an extensive hearing, the Coast Guard eventually dismissed the charges against Lt. Leone.

During this process, Lt. Leone received a series of positive performance reviews, and two Coast Guard aviation evaluations found him “fit to fly,” contingent on passing a retraining course. Another board recommended him for promotion to lieutenant commander.

But in March, Adm. Ostebo issued a negative performance report that found Lt. Leone, as the co-pilot, failed to advise the pilot that he was flying too fast and too low. This failure directly contributed to the accident, the performance report said.

Just days earlier, Vice Adm. Sally Brice-O’Hara, who was the Coast Guard’s No. 2-ranking officer at the time, issued a final evaluation report on the accident faulting Lt. Leone for not adequately challenging the pilot’s decisions.

Story Continues →