Fact Check

Navy Commander to Be Charged for Returning Fire Against Chattanooga Gunman?

Published Aug 2, 2015


NEWS:   Reports that a Navy commander will be brought up on charges for returning fire against the Chattanooga gunman are unconfirmed.

On 1 August 2015, the oft-unreliable web site of conservative commentator Allen B. West published a blog post with the clickbaiting headline "What's happening to this heroic Navy officer from the Chattanooga shooting will make your blood BOIL." That post claimed that Navy Lt. Cmdr Timothy White, who is believed to have used a personal weapon to return fire against the shooter who killed four Marines and one sailor during a 16 July 2015 attack at Chattanooga-area military facilities, was going to be brought up on charges of illegally discharging a firearm on federal property by the Navy:

That post was largely cribbed from a thinly-sourced Western Journal article that in turn referenced a Navy Times article that discussed the Navy's investigation into the shooting but made no mention of White's being brought up on charges:

A Navy officer and a Marine fired their sidearms hoping to kill or subdue the gunman who murdered five service members last week in Chattanooga, Tennessee, according to multiple military officials familiar with internal reporting on the tragedy.

It remains unclear whether either hit Muhammad Abdulazeez, who was shot and killed on July 16 after he gunned down four Marines and a sailor at the Navy Operational Support Center in Chattanooga. It's also unclear why they were armed, as it is against Defense Department policy for anyone other than military police or law enforcement to carry weapons on federal property.

A report distributed among senior Navy leaders during the shooting's aftermath said Lt. Cmdr. Timothy White, the support center's commanding officer, used his personal firearm to engage Abdulazeez, Navy Times confirmed with four separate sources. A Navy official also confirmed a Washington Post report indicating one of the slain Marines may have been carrying a 9mm Glock and possibly returned fire on the gunman.

West maintained he had "confirmed" via text message that the Navy was bringing charges against White and urged readers to "flood the phones" of the Navy Secretary and the Secretary of Defense to protest that action:

Ladies and gents, resulting from the text message I received yesterday, I can confirm that the United States Navy is bringing charges against Lt. Cmdr Timothy White for illegally discharging a firearm on federal property.

Here's what needs to happen. Flood the phone of SecNav Ray Mabus and SecDef Carter and ask them whose side they're on. Demand the charges being brought against Lt.Cmdr White be immediately dropped. If those charges are not dropped, I will personally lead the charge to have Carter and Mabus removed from their positions.

However, as of 2 August 2015, U.S. Navy representatives responding to Facebook inquiries about the matter have been stating that the incident is still under review and no charges have yet been brought against any Navy personnel:

Stories of Navy personnel being charged with an offense are not true. There is still a long way to go in reviewing the facts of this tragic incident, but at this time we can confirm no service member has been charged with an offense.

The Washington Post noted on 4 August 2015 that Pentagon officials said "criminal charges are unlikely in White's case" and that other disciplinary options were possible:

It's worth noting that the Navy has a variety of options on the table. For one, it could feasibly recognize White for valor, while still taking some administrative action against him less serious than criminal charges.

Those options could include professional counseling or a non-punitive letter of caution. A letter along those lines would not be considered punishment, but rather a formal way of noting a deficiency or professional mistake.

The Department of Defense currently prohibits military personnel from carrying personal weapons while on duty, but that policy could be changing:

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the Pentagon could allow more military personnel to carry arms when stateside as part of an effort to bolster security at military sites following the recent shooting in Tennessee that killed five service members.

In a two-page memo dated July 29, Mr. Carter directed military commanders and civilian leaders to draw up new security plans and procedures for facilities which could be at risk. He said the July 16 shooting in Chattanooga illustrated the vulnerability of military sites and other facilities used by troops while in the country.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.

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