Former USS Howard CO was fired after ‘racially harassing comments’

by Vern Evans

An investigation into the former commanding officer of the Japan-based destroyer Howard who was relieved from command in February substantiated allegations that the skipper made several “racially harassing comments” portraying “derogatory stereotypes of African Americans,” according to records obtained by Navy Times.

When announcing Cmdr. Cameron Dennis’ relief on Feb. 6, the Navy only said that it fired Dennis due to a “loss of confidence in his ability to perform his duties,” just a few months after the officer assumed command of the warship in September.

But an investigation into Dennis, which Navy Times obtained through a Freedom of Information Act records request, reveals multiple incidents that preceded his ouster.

Dennis could not be reached for comment.

Howard conducted a ballistic missile defense training and certification event onboard the ship on Dec. 11. As the event unfolded, Dennis and the ship’s command master chief — among others — met in Dennis’ cabin and discussed one sailor who had received counseling from Dennis, the investigation said.

As the conversation wrapped up, the prior-enlisted Dennis said the counseled sailor’s “issue” was that she walks “around with BWA.” Dennis said he meant “black woman attitude” when those present asked him to clarify, the investigation said.

Dennis confirmed he did make the remark, and did mean “black woman attitude,” according to the investigation.

It remains unclear who Dennis was referring to, due to redactions in the publicly released investigation copy.

The investigation also shows that Dennis and his spouse hosted a holiday potluck at their home in Yokosuka, Japan, on December 16, where the ship’s department heads and their families attended.

During the party, attendees discussed their children and their children’s temperament, with one officer describing their eldest son as a “gentle soul.”

“I would have thought your sons walk around with a blunt in their mouths, guns on their waist, and a 40 in their hands,” Dennis replied, according to the investigation.

The officer replied that, “I know this is hard to believe, but I never qualified for WIC or food stamps” and “I’m not as ghetto as you think.”

The conversation shifted topics shortly thereafter, according to the investigation.

Dennis and the other officers who attended the event and were interviewed all confirmed Dennis made the remark, according to the investigation.

The investigation states he expressed remorse for his comments, and had described himself to Howard’s officers as a “smart ass” and “sarcastic,” and told them “you can call me on it” if he ever crossed a line.

Dennis said he felt “comfortable” with the officer to “engage in banter,” and claimed he felt they had developed a rapport through shared experiences — such as both going to captain’s mast as junior sailors.

“In that attempt to build camaraderie among a wardroom that he was just getting to know, CDR Dennis showed poor judgement in not recognizing that his banter included comments that a reasonable person would consider offensive,” the investigation said.

Dennis also voiced regret that he was “unable to resolve the allegations, informally or otherwise,” with the officer.

The investigation notes the difficulties a subordinate officer can face in calling out his CO.

“While CDR Dennis told his Department Heads and officers that he was ‘a smart ass’ and suggested that ‘if l piss you off you can call me on it,’ CDR Dennis did not recognize the difficulty an officer or Sailor may have in ‘calling their Captain on it,’ which allowed him to continue making jokes past a point of behavior that is unwelcome or offensive to a reasonable person,” the investigation said.

The investigation also substantiated another allegation that Dennis referred to a department head at one point as a “dummy” during a replenishment at sea training event. Even so, the investigating officer determined the remark was not “racially motivated.”

Dennis’ removal from the Howard came less than six months after the Navy removed the previous skipper of the warship, Cmdr. Kenji Igawa, due to a loss of confidence. The ship suffered a “soft grounding” as it pulled into Bali for a scheduled port visit just days before Igawa’s removal.

Dennis is one of at least six commanding officers the Navy has ousted this year.

Read the full article here

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