Navy to court-martial sailor accused of starting fire that destroyed the Bonhomme Richard

A 20-year-old sailor will face military trial on charges of deliberately setting fire to a $ 1.2 billion warship off the coast of San Diego in 2020, the Navy said Friday.

Sailor Ryan Sawyer Mays, a former sailor on board the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard, charged with aggravated arson and the deliberate danger of a boat in relation to the four-day fire that destroyed most of the ship. Rear Admiral Steve Koehler, commander of the U.S. 3rd Fleet based in San Diego, ordered the case to be sent to trial on Wednesday, according to court documents.

“After careful consideration of the preliminary hearing report, (Koehler) referred charges against Mays,” Cmdr said. Sean Robertson, 3rd Fleet Representative. “The charges were brought in response to evidence found during the criminal investigation into the fire that started at the former USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) on July 12, 2020.”

Mays was notified Friday, said Gary Barthel, Mays’s political lawyer in San Diego. Mays denies the allegations against him, Barthel told the Union-Tribune in an interview.

“He maintains his innocence – he always has,” Bartel said by telephone on Friday. “He is not happy to go to court-martial, but he is determined to prove his innocence.”

A fire is burning at Bonhomme Richard in the San Diego Naval Base on July 12, 2020.

(Getty Images)

The announcement of the trial came as a surprise to Mays, Bartel said, because a military judge advised him not to go to trial.

At a preliminary hearing on Article 32 at the San Diego Naval Base in December, Navy prosecutors filed their case against Mays before a hearing officer, Captain Angela Tang, a Navy judge. During the three-day hearing, both prosecution and defense witnesses testified about the fire and comments Mays allegedly made in the days and weeks that followed.

In the military justice system, Article 32 hearings cover the role that a major juror plays in the political system, except that only one person – in this case, Tang – weighs the evidence and suggests if there is enough evidence for to go to trial. or military court.

At that preliminary hearing, Navy prosecutors only had to prove that they had a possible reason for sending Mays to trial. In litigation, as in the political system, this model of evidence is elevated to the strictest “beyond reasonable doubt.”

According to Barthel, Tang’s report recommended that we not sue because of concerns about the facts.

“She put a lot of time and attention into her report,” Barthel said. “She was meticulous in the preliminary hearing and examined the evidence. Not only did he listen to witnesses but he took the time to interrogate them. “Her recommendation to the Navy was not to refer the case to trial based on issues with evidence.”

Apprentice Sailor Ryan Sawyer Mays, center

Navy apprentice Ryan Sawyer Mays, center, and lawyer Gary Barthel, left, arrive for a hearing at the San Diego Naval Base on December 13, 2021.

(Grigoris Bull / Associated Press)

In the military system, legal issues are subject to a single “convening authority” which makes the final decisions on whether a case will be sent to trial and even whether a guilty verdict will be upheld. In this case, that authority is the Admiral of the 3rd Fleet, Koehler.

Koehler’s spokesman declined to comment on Tang’s recommendation and, citing the integrity of the legal process, declined to comment on Barthel’s allegations that he was concerned about the evidence against Mays. Both the Navy and Barthel also refused to provide the Union-Tribune with a copy of Tang’s report. Robertson, a spokesman for Koehler, said only that the admiral’s decision was made after a “thorough examination of the officer’s hearing report.”

Barthel also noted that Mays’ rank, as provided by the Navy in his CV – Sailor Recruitment, or E-1 – differed from that on his charge sheet, which still reflects a Navy apprentice, or E-2 . Mays’ rank was confused during a hearing in December, as the Navy said it was an E-2, but appeared in court wearing the Navy or E-3 badges.

A helicopter fights the fire at Bonhomme Richard

A helicopter drops water on the burning Bonhomme Richard.


Prosecutors told Tang at the time that appearing in his hearing in the wrong uniform was an example of Mays’s attitude toward the Navy. Mays was also said to have recently tested positive for drugs in a recent urine test, although he was not charged with the offense.

According to his Navy biography, Mays was demoted to his current rank on Jan. 11. Barthel declined to comment on whether Mays was downgraded to a degree as a result of non-judicial punishment, an administrative measure that military commanders can take outside the military court system.

The sailors first reported seeing smoke at Bonhomme Richard – whose main mission was to transport marines and deliver them to a beach with amphibious vehicles and aircraft – shortly after 8 p.m. on Sunday 12 July 2020, near the ramp to the bottom of the vehicle storage space or “down V”. The ship was nearing the end of a nearly $ 250 million two-year upgrade to house Marine Corps F-35B fighters. A Navy investigation found that the ship and its crew were unprepared to fight the fire, with sailors slow to respond and fire stations missing or out of service that morning.

Bonhomme Richard towed by San Diego Bay trailer

After its decommissioning, the former Bonhomme Richard is towed by a tug from San Diego Bay on April 15, 2021, heading to a Texas landfill.

(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

It was two hours before firefighters from the San Diego Fire Department first put water in the flames. By then, it was too late and the ship burned for more than four days before the fire was extinguished. Everything from the waterline was destroyed. In December 2020, citing possible repair costs, he announced that the 22-year-old ship would be dismantled.

It was decommissioned and trailer outside San Diego in April.

Hearing Article 32 of Mays, an arson investigator from the Office of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said the fire was deliberately set on the bottom V of the ship. A sailor watching from the top of the ramp down V reported that he saw Mays – and only Mays – walking on the ramp carrying a bucket just before the fire started.

Prosecutors say Mays was unhappy working as a sailor on the deck of the ship. He joined the Navy in May 2019 to become a SEAL, but left the infamous Basic Underwater Demolition / SEAL course shortly after its launch in September of that year. Referred to Bonhomme Richard in March 2020 in the deck section of the boat.

The sailor watching the morning of the fire testified that he heard Mays say “I love deck” as he passed.

Dozens of Navy officers along with Navy civilian officials were named in the Navy’s investigation into the fire as contributing to the conditions that left the ship vulnerable to fire.

No action has been announced by the Navy for these cases.

Navy to court-martial sailor accused of starting fire that destroyed the Bonhomme Richard Source link Navy to court-martial sailor accused of starting fire that destroyed the Bonhomme Richard

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