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She Says The Coast Guard Whitewashed Her Sex Abuse Complaint — Then Nudged Her Out The Door

Kevin G. Hall Miami Herald

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr)  As Kevin G. Hall reports, [Monique Garbutt 's] promising career as an IT network expert at the Cyber Command in the nation’s capital came to a crashing halt after she reported that she was assaulted at a Coast Guard wedding in May 2017."

ARLINGTON, Va.

When she joined in 2013, Monique Garbutt embodied much of what Coast Guard leadership wants in today’s service — a hard-working, college-educated, tech-savvy African American woman who brought skill and diversity to the ranks.

She exited in just six years after a man she said sexually assaulted her received a light penalty and she fought to find out why.

“I trusted the system, I did,” said Garbutt, choking back tears. “There’s a difference between justice and pacification, and what they gave me was pacification.”

Her promising career as an IT network expert at the Cyber Command in the nation’s capital came to a crashing halt after she reported that she was assaulted at a Coast Guard wedding in May 2017. Pressing her case brought retaliation that ended her career, she insists.

Garbutt was one of more than 70 people who reached out to tell their stories after reading “Silenced No More,” a series by McClatchy and the Miami Herald in July. It spotlighted sexual harassment of members of the Coast Guard and retaliation against those who seek redress.

An active duty service member saw the stories, and sent her a link to the one about Claude Morrissey, a decorated rescue swimmer whose career nosedived after his wife reported inappropriate touching by his superior. “When I read that story, I was like, ‘Oh my. It’s such a small service, I can’t understand why it can’t be fixed,'” Garbutt said.

CAREER HOPES The daughter of Caribbean immigrants, Garbutt was 22 when she enlisted in the Coast Guard in May 2013 after finishing college. She did her training at a New Jersey boot camp in Cape May and then was assigned to the Florida Keys in Islamorada, where she was involved in search-and-rescue operations.

In 2015 she was sent to Petaluma, California, for IT training and in November that year moved to the suburbs of Washington, D.C. She helped with the transmission of secure communications and monitored Coast Guard computer networks to thwart would-be cyber intruders from breaching communications on vessels and at bases across the globe.

Life was good. Until a fateful night in Warrington, Pennsylvania, when she and other Coasties, as service members call themselves, gathered to attend a wedding of one of their own.

Garbutt was a bridesmaid. A service member she met in Petaluma and trusted plied her with alcohol throughout the night, not drinking himself, she said. The next thing Garbutt remembers is waking up in her hotel room in the overnight hours, the man without pants on.

“It was someone I went to training school with, someone they all knew well. That’s why it caught me so off guard that someone would do that,” she recalled.

The next day, after suffering a panic attack, Garbutt reported the incident to senior leadership in what’s called an unrestricted report. That is a more public form of reporting that automatically triggers an investigation and involves the command structure. “In the beginning I felt a weight was off my chest, but things started going downhill,” she said.

SLIPPERY SLOPE More than 48 hours after the incident, she was sent to a military hospital in Fort Belvoir for a rape evaluation, where they did not have the specific personnel needed for a forensic rape evaluation. Out of concerns about preserving evidence, the Coast Guard-assigned victims advocate took her to another local hospital in Virginia for a rape evaluation. Much later, Garbutt learned that nurses at Fort Belvoir had incorrectly put in her report that she refused treatment.

Garbutt was ordered to stay home while an investigation by the Coast Guard Investigative Service, or CGIS, began. Her laptop and phone and those of others at the wedding were taken so investigators could copy emails, texts and other forms of communications. Witnesses were interviewed.

“From there, I was like, ‘The Coast Guard is handling this,’” she said. But days turned into weeks, then weeks into months. In late November 2017 she got the bad news.

“They said, ‘you don’t have enough evidence. This is a he said/she said ordeal,’” Garbutt recalls, her voice quavering as she told how she was asked to accept a plea deal for simple assault.”

FACTS AFTERWARD In response to written questions about Garbutt’s case, the Coast Guard said the accused man waived his rights and initially spoke with investigators. But he did not provide consent to search his phone, and a search warrant was obtained to do so. Eventually, he was charged with sexual assault and abusive sexual contact, reduced at trial to simple assault.

While disputing some of Garbutt’s claims, spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Scott McBride said the service was “deeply saddened” by any report of sexual assault.

“Sexual assault is a crime, is unacceptable, and goes against the core values of the Coast Guard,” he said. “It harms individuals in multiple ways, affects our mission readiness, and erodes public trust in the armed forces.” The matter in May 2018 went to a general court martial proceeding, akin to a felony case in the civilian world. Garbutt admits she lost control when he walked into the courtroom and was escorted out and not present when the man’s plea deal was accepted and he was given 30 days in the brig for simple assault and an “other-than-honorable” discharge.

The sexual nature of the assault would not openly follow him into the civilian world.

Some of Garbutt’s colleagues remain upset about what happened, and the aftermath.

“I was shocked, because she is one of the smartest IT’s that I knew in the Coast Guard cyber command at that time. To learn what happened and why it’s happened … was mind blowing,” said one active duty service member who watched Garbutt’s professional demise unfold and asked to remain anonymous because of prohibitions on speaking to the news media.

SEARCH FOR FACTS In the aftermath, Garbutt’s anger turned to obsession. “My sole purpose was to go and get a copy of the investigative report,” she recalls. “After the court date I had the biggest runaround to get a copy of the criminal investigation, just to get my hospital records. She filed a Freedom of Information Act request in November 2018 for her files, and finally got her documents in March 2019, after the pro-bono group Protect Our Veterans interceded on her behalf.

As suspected, she said, there was more in there than she was told. McClatchy and the Miami Herald obtained a copy of the files she received. Far from a he said/she said, they show the man acknowledging in broad terms his wrongdoing.

“What I saw in there, it just made me want to throw up. He doesn’t confess to everything. But he confessed to way more than simple assault,” Garbutt said, noting she learned through the records that the assault appeared premeditated as he was messaging a friend in St. Louis about what he was going to do. “There is so much damaging stuff that is all in there that I felt this whole thing I was dragged through was a lie.”

Those were on top of the texts that she already had from the man. “I think there is something wrong with me. I am going to talk with someone about it,” he tells her by text. At another point, he acknowledges inappropriate sexual behavior but pleads with her “please don’t ruin me.”

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