Coast Guard to Investigate Discrimination Complaint

New London — The U.S. Coast Guard’s civil rights director has found that a former Coast Guard Academy cadet’s discrimination complaint against two academy officials warrants further investigation.

Webster Smith, a black man expelled from the academy following his court-martial for sexual assault, had complained in July that Rear Adm. James C. Van Sice, superintendent of the academy, and Capt. Douglas Wisniewski, the commandant of cadets at the time, had treated him differently than they treated other, white cadets accused of sexual offenses.

Wisniewski has since been transferred.

Cmdr. Jeff Carter, chief of media relations for the Coast Guard, said Wednesday that H. Jerry Jones, director of the Office of Civil Rights at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C., dismissed all but one of the 17 claims Smith raised in his discrimination complaint.

Accepted for investigation, Carter said, was Smith’s statement that he was discriminated against and treated differently because of his race when he was court-martialed for the same kinds of acts for which non-minority cadets received administrative punishment.

“We’re just beginning, and we’ll await the results of the investigation before we make a determination of whether we should take any action,” Carter said.

Smith was sentenced to six months in a Navy brig for extortion, sodomy and indecent assault and was released after serving nearly five months. He filed his complaint with the Office of Civil Rights at the academy, which forwarded it to Jones at Coast Guard headquarters.

Jones finished his review of the complaint Dec. 7, and a determination was made to assign the claim to an investigator at JDG Associates Inc., a consulting firm, according to its Web site, “specializing in equal employment opportunity, human resources, and civil rights.”

Carter said JDG has 45 days to complete an investigation. He said the claim was assigned to an outside consultant because there are few equal opportunity investigators at headquarters.

A separate investigation is under way involving Van Sice, who is leaving the academy Jan. 5 to become director of personnel management at Coast Guard headquarters. Carter has said a task force investigating the climate and culture among cadets at the academy learned about information involving Van Sice that required additional review beyond the scope of the task force’s charter.

Vice Adm. Robert J. Papp directed Rear Adm. Larry Hereth, commander of the Fifth Coast Guard District in Portsmouth, Va., to look into the information.

Van Sice will be replaced by Rear Adm. J. Scott Burhoe, the current Coast Guard director of governmental and public affairs.

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  1. TJ says:

    The Thomas Jackson Center for Equal Civil Rights is now following the Webster Smith story. Webster Smith in addition to nearly half a dozen other high profile complaints has our full attention.