SAN DIEGO (AP) — A former Blue Angels commander tolerated inappropriate sexual comments and pornographic images in the workplace during his time as leader of the famed precision flying team and will be given a letter of reprimand, the Navy said Tuesday.
Capt. Gregory McWherter was found guilty of violating two articles under the military's code of justice during nonjudicial proceedings convened Monday in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The articles were failure to obey an order or regulation and conduct unbecoming of an officer by fostering a hostile command climate and failing to stop "obvious and repeated instances of sexual harassment, condoning widespread lewd practices within the squadron and engaging in inappropriate and unprofessional discussions with his junior officers," the Navy said in a statement.
The punitive letter will go in McWherter's permanent file and is widely seen as a career-ender in the service. McWherter told Navy officials he did not wish to speak to the media, said Cmdr. Kevin Stephens, a spokesman at Naval Air Forces.
McWherter was relieved in April from his duty as executive officer of Naval Base Coronado in California amid the allegations during his second stint as the Blue Angels' leader from May 2011 to November 2012. The Navy said it did not find problems during his first stint as the flying team's commanding officer from 2008 to 2010.
"The investigation concluded that McWherter witnessed, condoned, and encouraged behavior that, while juvenile and sophomoric in the beginning, ultimately and in the aggregate, became destructive, toxic, and hostile," the Navy said in a statement.
The Navy said investigators found no evidence the behavior lead to sexual assault.
Harry Harris Jr., commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, ordered the investigation after a service member filed an official complaint with the Navy on March 24 that alleged "lewd speech, inappropriate comments, and sexually explicit humor were allowed in the workplace" and in some cases "encouraged" by the commanding officer, and "pornographic images were displayed in the workplace and shared in electronic communications."
"Commanding officers have an enduring obligation to maintain a proper work environment at all times and in all places and spaces; and they will be held accountable as appropriate when they fail," Harris said.
Several junior personnel who served under McWherter received formal written counseling for their behavior, but McWherter was held accountable for the actions of those in his command, the Navy said.
The Blue Angels are reviewing procedures, said Vice Adm. David Buss, commander, Naval Air Force Pacific, who added that he expects the next command to uphold the Navy's high standards. He called the environment McWherter fostered "totally inappropriate."
"I will not accept the encouragement of such behavior on the part of a leader entrusted with the responsibility of command," said Buss.