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Navy secretary censures former Va. officer

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) — The secretary of the Navy has censured the former commander of a fighter squadron at Oceana Naval Air Station.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said Cmdr. Liam Bruen permitted a hostile work environment, allowed subordinates to sexually harass a junior officer and gave the officer a bad performance evaluation as reprisal for filing a formal complaint.

The Virginian-Pilot reported Saturday that Cmdr. Liam Bruen was head of Strike Fighter Squadron 186 in August 2009 when an informal meeting was held to choose call signs for new officers. Ensign Steve Crowston was given one of three signals that were proposed, all of which had anti-gay overtones.

Mabus said in a letter Wednesday that Bruen “demonstrated a profound lack of judgment” in not promptly stopping the harassment.

According to 190 pages of documents obtained by the newspaper through the Freedom of Information Act, after the August 2009 meeting Crowston promptly notified his chain of command that he found the names offensive and humiliating. Shortly afterward, the squadron’s second-in-command, Cmdr. Damien Christopher, told Bruen he thought the names were problematic.

A few days later, Bruen called an all-officers meeting. His notes show he told the group “derogatory references of a homosexual nature” would not be tolerated.

Crowston wasn’t satisfied. Six months later, he filed a complaint with the inspector general for Naval Air Force Atlantic.

An initial investigation dismissed most of Crowston’s complaints. The Naval Inspector General then conducted its own inquiry and found what happened at the call sign meeting constituted hazing, sexual harassment and a hostile work environment.

In a 17-page response to the inspector general’s findings, Bruen called the investigations “troubling and one-sided.” He said three of the other five officers had been given “homosexually oriented” proposed call signs that day, and he said he held an officers’ meeting to “address the inappropriate behavior” without identifying Crowston as the one who had complained.

Bruen, who retired earlier this year, said in an email to the newspaper that since he is no longer in the Navy he fails to see the validity of the Navy secretary’s actions.

Crowston said Friday that “justice is served” with Bruen’s censure. The Navy also has removed the unfavorable fitness report from Crowston’s file and has promoted him to lieutenant junior grade.

He said he hopes other service members subjected to offensive comments will be inspired by the outcome of his complaint.

“Fight the homophobic bigotry anywhere and anytime,” Crowston said.

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