Panel reaches verdict in Court-Martial over San Diego boat collision

Lady JusticeALAMEDA, Calif. – A general court-martial convened March 7, 2011, at the 11th Coast Guard District headquarters in Alameda, Calif., has reached a verdict on Uniform Code of Military Justice charges filed against Petty Officer Paul A. Ramos. The charges stem from the Dec. 20, 2009, collision between a Coast Guard patrol boat Ramos was operating and a civilian vessel during an evening holiday boat parade on San Diego Bay.

RESULTS OF COURT-MARTIAL
A seven-member court-martial panel, the military trial version of a jury, found Ramos:

  • Not guilty of violating Article 119, involuntary manslaughter;
  • Not guilty of violating Article 134, negligent homicide;
  • Not guilty of violating Article 128, aggravated assault;
  • Not guilty of violating Article 110, negligently hazarding a vessel, and;
  • Guilty of one specification on the charge of violating Article 92, dereliction of duty for failure to conduct a risk assessment.

The court will now begin the sentencing phase.

COAST GUARD STATEMENT
“This is an important step in the military justice process, and in determining the cause of this tragic collision,” said Dan Dewell, an 11th District spokesman. “No legal ruling can restore lives lost or injured, and we know that recounting the details of a tragedy during a trial can be difficult for those affected by it. We take this opportunity to again extend our deepest sorrow and condolences to the victims of the crash and their families,” he said.

Because of other pending legal matters and investigations, and out of respect for the rights and privacy of everyone affected by the collision, no additional details about the case can be released at this time.

STATUS OF OTHER MILITARY JUSTICE CASES AND INVESTIGATIONS
Besides Ramos, three other patrol boat crewmembers were charged with violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice following the collision. A summary court-martial was held for Petty Officer Brittany N. Rasmussen in San Diego in Jan. during which she pleaded guilty to a violation of Article 92, dereliction of duty in her role as a lookout on the boat, and received a letter of reprimand. A charge of violation of Article 92, dereliction of duty, against Petty Officer Lavelle M. Teague, was dismissed because of insufficient evidence late last year at a non-judicial hearing held in Alameda. A court-martial for Petty Officer Ian M. Howell is scheduled for May.

A fifth Coast Guardsman, who was aboard the boat for training and was not a qualified crewmember, was not charged.

The UCMJ is a complete set of criminal laws that covers most crimes contained in civilian law in addition to other military-specific offenses. UCMJ charges are accusations. The accused are presumed innocent unless proven guilty. In Ramos’ court-martial, verdicts required a two-thirds vote of the panel.

The Coast Guard’s internal investigation into the collision and an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board are ongoing.

BACKGROUND INFO ON BOATING ACCIDENTS
Although serious boat accidents in the Coast Guard are rare, they do happen. In the past five years, during 2.6-million operating hours and thousands of patrols, there have been three Coast Guard boat-related accidents resulting in fatalities. The Dec. 2009 San Diego collision was the only incident involving the death of a civilian. In March 2007 a Coast Guard member died after being ejected from a patrol boat in Alaska. Another Coast Guardsman died in Oct. 2010 during a training mission in Virginia after he fell into the water while transferring between a small patrol boat and a cutter.

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2 Comments

  1. Ruth says:

    I cried when I read this. Thank you to the jury for not making criminals out of our servicemen acting in the line of duty. This was a tragedy for everyone involved.

  2. Michael Dragon says:

    A civilian would not have gotten off so lightly… PO Ramos was clearly guilty of the Article 110 violation. He hit a right-of-way vessel. That is, by definition, negligence… period. There is no other honest answer. While this could easily be manslaughter, I would give PO Ramos the benefit of the doubt, & hope he has learned from his grave error / lapse in judgment. In fairness to him, this was ridiculous to prosecute this as Murder in any form.

    Honor means accepting responsibility for your actions… it’s too bad this court was more interested in shielding it’s self from possible civil litigation than upholding the standards of Honor once so revered in our services.