Wednesday, October 05, 2022

Where Does Ryan Mays go to Get His Name and Life Back?

A sad chapter in the loss over two years ago of the USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) has finally come to a close.

With the loss of an almost freshly modernized large amphib and $1.2 billion already being cut in to scrap - the whole story is yet to play out, but one of the saddest chapters is now closed. In a just world there would be scalding Congressional hearings, but alas we do not live in such a world.

Megan Rose at ProPublica put out a superb review and report a couple of weeks ago you really need to read in full.

Considering all the own-goals our Navy has executed the last few years, a navalist can be a little numb to the ineptitude ... but we need to look at.

We need to look at it if for no other reason than it appears that we put the entire weight and resources of the Navy's legal system against a young Sailor for no other reason than - it appears - to force him to be the Navy's sin eater.

The only good thing that has come from this sad tale is that at least Seaman Recruit Ryan Mays, USN is a free man. Damaged and poor, but wiser and free;

Update, Sept. 30, 2022: A military judge found Seaman Recruit Ryan Mays not guilty on Friday of setting fire to the USS Bonhomme Richard. Mays, 21, had stood trial on charges of aggravated arson and willfully hazarding a vessel for the four-day blaze that destroyed the amphibious assault ship in 2020.

As we've discussed it often since the fire here, follow the link if you need to catch up on my thoughts in detail.

As regulars here know, over the last three decades+ I have seen too many acquaintances and friends be destroyed - in some cases personally in addition to professionally - by frivolous or just plain slanderous IG/NCIS investigations. 

When they arrested Mays, while accepting they may have the guilty party, in the back of my mind came up something Ensign Salamander thought was BS at the time, and combined with what I saw after Tailhook 91, cemented a healthy suspicion of the Navy's investigatory services that time proved wise; 

To some, the Navy’s actions were reminiscent of an ugly piece of its history. In 1989 an explosion on a turret of the USS Iowa killed 47 sailors, and the Navy tried to pin it on one of the dead sailors, who leaders suspected was gay. Only after Congress stepped in did the Navy acknowledge there was no evidence for its assertions.

Command Investigations I have faith in ... if it involves a hotline complaint, IG or NCIS ... notsomuch;

The service immediately launched two parallel investigations into what went wrong and why.

The command investigation, led by a three-star admiral, sent a team of investigators on a prodigious and methodical examination of the fire. As the months passed, the investigators uncovered in exhaustive detail an astonishing array of failures — broken or missing fire hoses, poorly trained sailors, improperly stored hazardous material — that had primed the ship for a calamitous fire.

A separate investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, for its part, focused on whether anyone was criminally responsible. As the months passed, NCIS investigators appeared to operate in isolation, discounting the damning findings of the command investigation to pursue a case of arson, despite scant evidence.

Six weeks into both inquiries, the Navy told the command investigation to accept at face value what NCIS and federal fire investigators judged to be the fire’s origin. Both investigations concluded in 2021.


The command investigation traced the problems back to when the Bonhomme Richard docked for maintenance and Navy leaders throughout the ranks abandoned responsibility for the ship’s safety. Risks mounted, and nobody paid attention. All told, investigators determined that the actions of 17 sailors and officers directly led to the loss of the ship, and those of 17 more, including five admirals, contributed. The long list was a staggering indictment of everyone from sailors to top admirals who had failed in their jobs.

The NCIS investigation, however, laid the blame at the feet of a single young sailor. The true culprit, the one who bore responsibility for the billion-dollar loss, the Navy said, was then-20-year-old Ryan Mays. And for that, he should face life in prison.

The Navy continued its pursuit of Mays, even as a military judge recommended against it, bluntly calling out the lack of evidence and citing the findings of the Navy’s own command investigation.


After a dayslong probable cause hearing for Mays in December 2021, the judge said she wasn’t persuaded of Mays’ guilt. A nuclear-trained surface warfare officer who later became a Navy lawyer and then judge, Capt. Angela Tang is known for being thorough.

“Given the state of the evidence presented to me, I do not believe there is a reasonable likelihood of conviction at trial. Therefore I do not recommend referral of these charges even though there is probable cause to support them,” Tang wrote in her findings. 

Accountability for a $1.2 billion loss of what for other navies would be considered a capital ship? Huh.

The details in Meghan's article is just, well, depressing. Just one paragraph should drive any navalists to the end of their line;

The investigators soon discovered an astonishing list of ways the ship was at risk, so many that cataloging the bad decisions day after day became depressing, the person involved said. For long stretches, all the ship’s heat sensors, sprinklers and other emergency systems were turned off, investigators wrote in their report. On the day of the fire, just 29 of the ship’s 216 fire stations and 15 of 807 portable fire extinguishers were in standard working order.

This is what we put one of our Sailors through;

The ATF’s Beals and an NCIS agent questioned Mays in a recorded interview for nearly 10 hours. He told them more than 150 times that he didn’t set the ship on fire.

The morning of the fire, Mays should have had a broom and dustpan in his hand, cleaning the back of the ship. Mays told agents he was instead just hanging out there, scrolling through his phone. With 24 hours of duty and not much to do, he wasn’t in a hurry right after roll call, and besides, he told ProPublica later, the general culture of the ship on its second extension in the yards was lackadaisical.

On a recording of the interview, Mays, wearing a brown uniform T-shirt and occasionally sweeping his hair off his forehead, vacillated between confrontation and distress.

In a confident voice, he asked eight times in two minutes if he was being detained.

“I’m not answering your questions, Ryan,” Beals said.

During his interview, Mays crudely put on display his disregard for the fleet Navy, and spoke of his desire to be a SEAL. In the beginning he even asked NCIS agent Albert Porter, a former SEAL, for a recommendation. Porter told Mays he’d never have another shot at the training program: “You’re not going back, dude. It’s not happening.”

Beals pressed him to “just admit to what you’ve done.” At one point, he told Mays they had him on video.

“You’re a liar,” Mays said.

“You’re a liar,” Beals replied.

Several times throughout the day, Mays asked to call his mom. He tried to think of anything he could tell the agents that would show them he was innocent. He begged them to take his DNA, search his phone and use GPS to track his whereabouts at the time.

At one point when the agents left him alone, he exclaimed to the empty room: “I didn’t do it. Let me go.”

Then he laid his head on the table and sobbed.

When Mays learned close to midnight he was going to the brig, a sailor who had been preparing to transport him said she heard Mays say something like “I’m guilty. I did it, I guess,” according to records and testimony.

Agents took the alleged remark as a confession. Mays said he was being sarcastic, expressing disbelief he was being arrested for a crime he didn’t commit.

The Navy booked Mays into the brig on Aug. 20, 2020.

Kafka lacked imagination compared to what we will put our people through. Such a young man. He will never be the same. His family will never be the same. 

Where is justice for him?

The experience, especially his time in the brig, has been “soul crushing,” he said. “A piece of me died in there and I don’t know if I’ll ever get it back.”

Don't think it can't happen to you.

If you find yourself across the table from any law enforcement officer of any stripe - lawyer up. I don't care how innocent you are. Be silent until you have an attorney tell you when to speak and what to say. If you are in uniform, take your JAG, but dig as deep as you can in your pockets for the best civilian lawyer you can find who has experience in this area and will take your case. 

Very often it is not about innocence or guilt, nor is it about right or wrong. It is about what someone can prove or disprove. Nothing more. For ambition or self-preservation - or even ego - individuals of our species will destroy innocents. It is our nature. Acknowledge that and accept it.

No, it isn't fair. No, it isn't cheap - but one thing money is not as valuable as time and your reputation. 

Be a mensch. If you have a friend or a Shipmate who finds themselves under the microscope such as this, do not abandon them. Most will, and the few that remain can make all the difference in the world to ensure that they have a chance to remain grounded and get through this. If you abandon them, you were never a friend or a Shipmate.

Our Navy failed here at multiple levels. 

In a about 2/3 the time it took to fight WWII ... here we are in the fall of 2022 ... with nothing but shame and guilt.

Where is constructive action? 

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