NAVY SEALS

USS Bonhomme Richard Failed on Fire Safety, Documents Show — ProPublica

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On the morning of July 12, 2020, the primary orange sparkles of destruction took maintain within the bowels of the hulking USS Bonhomme Richard because it sat moored at a San Diego naval base.

Unimpeded, the hearth gathered power, surging upward, conquering one stage of the 844-foot ship after which the following, whereas the crew — the ship’s important firefighting power — fled to the pier. There, the captain and his sailors stood by because the Bonhomme Richard burned, in merciless irony of its motto “I’ve not but begun to battle.”

Not till the San Diego fireplace division went aboard did anybody spray water on the hearth — practically two hours after it had began. By then it was too late. Fuel cylinders had been exploding and taking pictures via the air, and firefighters didn’t have a map or perhaps a sailor to information them via the smoky maze of the ship. A firefighter’s warning {that a} compartment was “about to blast” pressured firefighters off the Bonhomme Richard simply minutes earlier than an explosion so highly effective it was heard 13 miles away and hurled particles onto a close-by destroyer.

That afternoon, the flames, sizzling sufficient to warp metal beams, danced alongside the flight deck and engulfed the ship’s outer construction. Because the inferno raged, it melted the within of the 300-ton management middle on prime of the ship, spewing molten aluminum onto the decks under.

Earlier than dusk, the Bonhomme Richard was a salvage heap. Sailors later watched because the ahead mast, the place the American flag flies whereas the ship is at sea, collapsed.

On this handout launched by the U.S. Navy, a fireplace engulfs the united statesBonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego on July 12, 2020.


Credit score:
Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Austin Haist/U.S. Navy through Getty Pictures

4 days later, when the hearth was formally out, the U.S. Navy confronted the sickening lack of a $1.2 billion-dollar warship, to not warfare, and even at sea. However to a completely preventable fireplace whereas moored in a stateside port. For the Navy, whose status because the world’s best had been battered by current collisions at sea and allegations of shoddy gear and coaching, the lack of the Bonhomme Richard was an embarrassing — and painfully public — blow.

The service instantly launched two parallel investigations into what went incorrect and why.

The command investigation, led by a three-star admiral, despatched a workforce of investigators on a prodigious and methodical examination of the hearth. Because the months handed, the investigators uncovered in exhaustive element an astonishing array of failures — damaged or lacking fireplace hoses, poorly educated sailors, improperly saved hazardous materials — that had primed the ship for a calamitous fireplace.

A separate investigation by the Naval Felony Investigative Service, for its half, centered on whether or not anybody was criminally accountable. Because the months handed, NCIS investigators appeared to function in isolation, discounting the damning findings of the command investigation to pursue a case of arson, regardless of scant proof.

Six weeks into each inquiries, the Navy informed the command investigation to simply accept at face worth what NCIS and federal fireplace investigators judged to be the hearth’s origin. Each investigations concluded in 2021.

The command investigation traced the issues again to when the Bonhomme Richard docked for upkeep and Navy leaders all through the ranks deserted duty for the ship’s security. Dangers mounted, and no person paid consideration. All informed, investigators decided that the actions of 17 sailors and officers straight led to the lack of the ship, and people of 17 extra, together with 5 admirals, contributed. The lengthy record was a staggering indictment of everybody from sailors to prime admirals who had failed of their jobs.

The NCIS investigation, nonetheless, laid the blame on the toes of a single younger sailor. The true perpetrator, the one who bore duty for the billion-dollar loss, the Navy mentioned, was then-20-year-old Ryan Mays. And for that, he ought to face life in jail.

The Navy continued its pursuit of Mays, at the same time as a navy decide beneficial towards it, bluntly calling out the dearth of proof and citing the findings of the Navy’s personal command investigation.

Beginning this week, Mays is being court-martialed in a navy trial in San Diego for aggravated arson and willfully hazarding a vessel.

Ryan Mays, in lengthy sleeves, and his lawyer Lt. Cmdr. Jordi Torres after a court docket listening to in August


Credit score:
Devin Yalkin, particular to ProPublica

A Navy spokesperson mentioned the service couldn’t touch upon ongoing litigation, however famous that the admiral who ordered the court-martial fastidiously reviewed the advice earlier than deciding to maneuver ahead. “Everyone seems to be entitled to a good trial and the Navy is dedicated to upholding that precept,” Cmdr. Sean Robertson mentioned.

In court docket, the Navy has tried to stymie questions on its motivations — and even to quash proof its personal officers gathered about harmful situations aboard the Bonhomme Richard. Final month, the prosecutor, Capt. Jason Jones, requested the decide to forbid Mays’ counsel from presenting the conclusions of the command investigation. Mays, who now holds the bottom navy rank of E1, shouldn’t be in a position to ask the court docket to view him as the autumn man, Jones mentioned.

The Navy wasn’t the issue, Jones mentioned in court docket, and the trial argument shouldn’t in any manner suggest that “the Navy wants a scapegoat and due to this fact we picked an E1.”


Firefighters enter a ship hatchway.
Firefighters put together to board the Bonhomme Richard two days after the hearth began.


Credit score:
Mass Communications Specialist third Class Jason Waite/U.S. Navy

On Naval Base San Diego’s Pier 2, investigators cordoned off the charred wreckage of the Bonhomme Richard with yellow police tape.

Inside days of the hearth being extinguished, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigators, who co-led the legal inquiry with NCIS, stepped into the watery shell of the ship, on the lookout for what ignited the blaze.

As a result of the amphibious assault ship had been “within the yards” on the time of the hearth, its flight deck, which stretched longer than two soccer fields, had been empty of the helicopters and F-35 fighter jets it was designed to hold. One in every of eight such ships within the Navy, the Bonhomme Richard is sort of a small plane service, made to ferry hundreds of Marines into fight. It had been out of fee for a yr and half throughout a $249 million overhaul. The morning of the hearth, the improve was practically full.

The brokers decided that the hearth had began in an space of the ship referred to as the “decrease V,” which usually stowed dozens of Marine Corps tanks and different autos, however throughout the overhaul was getting used as a catchall, based on testimony and experiences. On the day of the hearth, the decrease V had been full of two fueled forklifts, a person carry, pallets of hand sanitizer, lithium batteries and different combustibles, wooden beams, scaffolding, rope and thick, tall cardboard crates, some stacked two excessive.

A warship is an uncommon scene for ATF investigators. They turned to the ship’s harm management assistant, Lt. Cmdr. Felix Perez, for a tour. Perez was the officer straight in command of the firefighting hoses and programs aboard the ships, coaching sailors to battle fires and guaranteeing the ship adopted fireplace prevention precautions.

Perez guided the brokers via the ship, stopping on the fireplace stations closest to the place the hearth started. At three, hoses had been lacking, lower or in any other case unusable. Perez informed the brokers he or his workers had walked the ship two days earlier than the hearth, and it was practically unattainable that they had missed the hearth stations, based on an NCIS affidavit concerning the case.

The stations, Perez informed the brokers, will need to have been tampered with.


Military officers salute in the direction of a burning ship. Nearby, a large pile of gas cylinders rests on a lawn.
Sailors stand at consideration throughout morning colours because the Bonhomme Richard burns within the background.


Credit score:
Mass Communications Specialist third Class Jason Waite/U.S. Navy

A number of weeks later, in a constructing catty-corner from the Bonhomme Richard, some 77 naval officers, enlisted specialists and civilians arrange store for the command investigation.

Early on, investigators realized Perez had not performed his job properly, based on an individual near the investigation who spoke to ProPublica on the situation their title wouldn’t be used so they might communicate freely about delicate issues. The hearth stations had been inoperable from broad neglect — and Perez and different leaders had failed to acknowledge the disintegration of the ship’s situation.

From the beginning of the command investigation, NCIS instantly curtailed the workforce’s efforts, forbidding its specialists and officers from interviewing anyone from the ship, command investigators wrote of their report. Backed by Navy coverage, NCIS’ legal inquiry took priority over the systemic investigation. So the command investigators turned as a substitute to 26,000 pages of data, downloading databases and piecing collectively logs of the ship’s gear, upkeep and coaching.

The investigators quickly found an astonishing record of the way the ship was in danger, so many who cataloging the dangerous choices day after day grew to become miserable, the particular person concerned mentioned. For lengthy stretches, all of the ship’s warmth sensors, sprinklers and different emergency programs had been turned off, investigators wrote of their report. On the day of the hearth, simply 29 of the ship’s 216 fireplace stations and 15 of 807 transportable fireplace extinguishers had been in commonplace working order.

Perez was the ship’s principal consultant on its mandated fireplace security council, which investigators discovered met advert hoc and appeared to exist merely to waive security necessities. Investigators scoured the assembly minutes and logs on the lookout for methods Perez and others had thought of mitigating every threat created by waiving these necessities and located nearly none. They concluded that Perez, in addition to his direct boss and different senior leaders, had abdicated their tasks for addressing fireplace prevention on the ship. Perez declined to touch upon the investigation’s findings however mentioned he thought his naval file confirmed he was a superb officer.

Investigators additionally realized that Bonhomme Richard sailors had been dwelling close by on a berthing barge, principally a floating dormitory, till shortly earlier than the hearth. However that week they’d began to maneuver again onto the ship whereas it was nonetheless in disarray. The provides of each the contractor and the ship had been shoved in every single place. The dysfunction had grow to be normalized sufficient, the investigation discovered, that sailors of all ranks routinely walked by improperly saved oil drums, fuel cylinders and different flamable gadgets with out a lot thought to the hazard. To investigators, the situation of the ship was an “preferrred setting for the hearth to develop and unfold.”

Simply days earlier than the hearth, Mays had angrily texted his division officer, complaining about having to dwell amongst contractors who had been doing work that was “hazardous as fuck.” A employee was welding close to his bunk as he slept, and Mays mentioned he was burned by a stray spark. In 2015, a significant fireplace began on one other warship in a shipyard with related situations: sailors transferring aboard whereas “sizzling work” was being performed.

The command investigators hung posters of ship drawings all around the partitions, every one monitoring a distinct potential downside. Whereas NCIS’ early impressions of the case included a principle of sabotage, one other image altogether was changing into clear to command investigators: The Bonhomme Richard had been a tinderbox.


A ship is consumed by grayish-white smoke.
Smoke rises from a fireplace onboard the U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego on July 12, 2020.


Credit score:
Bing Guan/Reuters

On July 24, 2020, lower than one week after starting the legal investigation, the ATF preliminarily dominated the Bonhomme Richard fireplace to be arson.

The lead ATF agent, Matthew Beals, and his workforce of investigators had discovered no bodily proof anybody purposefully set the hearth. Beals later testified that he’d dominated out unintentional causes, equivalent to electrical and mechanical, in addition to pure ones. With these causes eradicated, alongside together with his evaluation of how the hearth grew and witnesses’ statements, he concluded it will need to have been arson.

The Nationwide Fireplace Safety Affiliation’s 921 information, primarily the hearth investigation bible, requires investigators to make use of the scientific technique to find out trigger. “You possibly can’t within the absence of every thing else rule it was arson,” Robert Duval, a director with the affiliation, informed ProPublica. ATF mentioned it couldn’t touch upon pending litigation. Beals testified that his strategies adopted the guide and his conclusions had been primarily based on quite a lot of proof.

Within the space of the decrease V that was most closely scorched by the hearth, Beals centered on the big cardboard crates he’d later name “Amazon packing containers on steroids.” He theorized primarily based on area assessments that somebody used an accelerant to ignite them, however mentioned in court docket that he couldn’t discover any fireplace information to corroborate.

He would testify at Mays’ possible trigger listening to that he believed the hearth was began by somebody purposefully utilizing an open flame and probably an accelerant on the packing containers.

NCIS started interviewing Bonhomme Richard sailors. Earlier within the yr, NCIS publicly acknowledged the sphere workplace in San Diego had mishandled a high-profile investigation into Navy SEAL Particular Operations Chief Edward Gallagher for warfare crimes; Gallagher was acquitted. The Navy took corrective motion towards seven brokers. Because the NCIS workplace developed its case on the hearth, its management was nonetheless below a cloud.

The Bonhomme Richard’s prime enlisted sailor recognized Mays as somebody who disdained the Navy, based on an NCIS affidavit. To go together with their discovering of arson, brokers had a reputation of a doable suspect.

A young man's face
Ryan Mays


Credit score:
Devin Yalkin, particular to ProPublica

Mays, simply out of highschool and nonetheless child confronted, was referred to as one thing of a loudmouth on the ship. He’d enlisted early in Kentucky together with his mom’s permission as a 17-year-old senior who appreciated science, swimming and working throughout the soccer area shirtless with the flag earlier than Friday night time video games. His Navy contract assured him an opportunity at BUD/S, the notoriously grueling coaching program for the SEALs.

Mays appreciated the camaraderie of orientation, however wasn’t mature sufficient to final when coaching received intense. He stop on the fifth day. That left him with out a Navy profession path, and he was in limbo for months afterwards, awaiting a brand new task.

Mays stole a pair of headphones from the bottom retailer, pondering naively that it could be “a quick observe out of the navy,” he informed ProPublica. To his shock, he was solely reprimanded, and the commander inspired him to embrace his potential and his time within the Navy.

Mays mentioned that restoked his need to grow to be a SEAL. The Navy gave sailors three probabilities. When he was despatched to the Bonhomme Richard in March 2020, Mays was single-minded. He might stand on the flight deck and, on a transparent day, see throughout San Diego Bay to the Coronado seashores the place the SEALs prepare. That was the place he wished to be. Or a minimum of in a particular warfare program, like explosive ordnance disposal.

He buddied up with one other sailor with related targets, they usually examined their bodily limits with in a single day exercises. Mays was small however robust and his ego surfaced within the typical teenage manner: social media preening. Across the ship, he earned eyerolls from fellow sailors when boasting that he belonged amongst elite sailors. Mays was in actuality a low-ranking deck sailor, mopping, portray and finishing up different menial custodial duties aboard the Bonhomme Richard.

Data and interviews confirmed brokers zeroed in on Mays’ discontent and the truth that he dropped out of SEAL coaching.


Command investigators, in the meantime, had been discovering that the essential precept of firefighting as survival had withered throughout the Bonhomme Richard’s in depth time in port. Simply as each Marine is a rifleman, each sailor is a firefighter. It doesn’t matter what a sailor’s job is, understanding find out how to comprise and extinguish a fireplace is paramount. When a ship is at sea, there’s nowhere to flee.

The investigative workforce broke into smaller teams to look at what ought to have occurred throughout the fireplace and what really did.

Shortly after 8 a.m., sailors first reported recognizing smoke. Investigators had been dumbfounded on the lack of urgency after that. Navy coverage, they wrote of their report, dictates that sailors should douse flames with water as quickly as doable however at most inside 12 minutes. On the ship that day, greater than 10 minutes elapsed earlier than anybody even introduced the hearth over the ship’s loudspeaker. The gradual response, they discovered, was typical for the Bonhomme Richard. For 14 drills in a row main as much as the hearth, the crew failed to reply in time — an absence of proficiency that neither the ship’s management nor increased instructions took steps to deal with.

That important hole between the signal of smoke and the sounding of the alarm, investigators discovered, was the primary in a cascading set of failures, by each the crew and management on the pier. As soon as the sailors realized most of the hoses nearest the hearth weren’t operable, investigators realized, none of them moved to a different essential shipboard technique to comprise the hearth: slamming shut the heavy metal hatches and watertight doorways between compartments. And the sailors revealed that at the beginning nobody thought to make use of the ship’s sprinklers to distribute thick, white foam that may assist extinguish the hearth. Even when that they had, they’d have been unable to simply activate the system: A upkeep report had been falsified in April, saying the system labored when it didn’t.


A young man in a sailor suit
Ryan Mays


Credit score:
Devin Yalkin, particular to ProPublica

Because the command investigation took a large view of what led as much as the hearth, NCIS, data present, sharpened its give attention to Mays. On the morning of the hearth, Seaman Kenji Velasco, who had simply come on obligation together with Mays, had been standing watch on the prime of the ramp to the decrease V. He informed NCIS that he noticed somebody go down the ramp shortly earlier than the hearth.

Velasco informed no person about this particular person for days, based on testimony — not even throughout the fireplace, when that particular person might have been in peril of being killed. When Velasco sat down with brokers, he informed them that somebody had walked behind him, “however I’ve by no means seen him earlier than.”

Brokers went again to Velasco the day after the interview. This time Velasco mentioned he was “pretty certain” the particular person was Mays, based on NCIS paperwork. Velasco informed the brokers that Mays was cocky and talked an excessive amount of.

The brokers then introduced Velasco again once more: How sure was he that he noticed Mays? “90%,” Velasco informed them.

The following month, brokers scooped up Mays, shocking him as he checked in for work. The ATF’s Beals and an NCIS agent questioned Mays in a recorded interview for practically 10 hours. He informed them greater than 150 occasions that he didn’t set the ship on fireplace.

The morning of the hearth, Mays ought to have had a brush and dustpan in his hand, cleansing the again of the ship. Mays informed brokers he was as a substitute simply hanging on the market, scrolling via his cellphone. With 24 hours of obligation and never a lot to do, he wasn’t in a rush proper after roll name, and apart from, he informed ProPublica later, the overall tradition of the ship on its second extension within the yards was lackadaisical.

On a recording of the interview, Mays, carrying a brown uniform T-shirt and infrequently sweeping his hair off his brow, vacillated between confrontation and misery.

In a assured voice, he requested eight occasions in two minutes if he was being detained.

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

Throughout his interview, Mays crudely placed on show his disregard for the fleet Navy, and spoke of his need to be a SEAL. To start with he even requested NCIS agent Albert Porter, a former SEAL, for a suggestion. Porter informed Mays he’d by no means have one other shot on the coaching program: “You’re not going again, dude. It’s not occurring.”

Beals pressed him to “simply admit to what you’ve performed.” At one level, he informed Mays that they had him on video.

“You’re a liar,” Mays mentioned.

“You’re a liar,” Beals replied.

A number of occasions all through the day, Mays requested to name his mother. He tried to think about something he might inform the brokers that might present them he was harmless. He begged them to take his DNA, search his cellphone and use GPS to trace his whereabouts on the time.

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

Then he laid his head on the desk and sobbed.

When Mays realized near midnight he was going to the brig, a sailor who had been making ready to move him mentioned she heard Mays say one thing like “I’m responsible. I did it, I suppose,” based on data and testimony.

Brokers took the alleged comment as a confession. Mays mentioned he was being sarcastic, expressing disbelief he was being arrested for a criminal offense he didn’t commit.

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


A web page from the Navy’s command investigation report exhibits aluminum that melted throughout the fireplace and flowed all through the ship, prime, and the gaping gap the hearth left within the inside of the ship, under.


Credit score:
U.S. Navy command investigation

Within the months after the hearth, NCIS and ATF brokers had been gradual to interview among the sailors who had been aboard the ship throughout the fireplace, NCIS data of interviews present. A kind of sailors was among the many first to see smoke that morning.

A couple of month after Mays was arrested, the witness informed brokers she had seen a sailor sprinting from the decrease V concerning the time she noticed a “white fog” wafting up. She recognized the sailor as Seaman Recruit Elijah McGovern.

A month and a half later, data present, NCIS and ATF brokers requested McGovern the place he was when the hearth began. McGovern denied setting the hearth. He gave a collection of tales over a number of interviews about the place he was on the time that had been later contradicted, witnesses testified. ProPublica couldn’t attain McGovern for remark.

Beals and NCIS agent Maya Kamat investigated McGovern for months however finally set a low bar to clear him. They discovered grainy, distant video of a base exit close to the Bonhomme Richard that confirmed an individual leaving about 25 minutes after the hearth began. Beals and Kamat testified they might not establish McGovern’s face on the video. However Beals mentioned he might inform by the particular person’s “gait and stroll and common construct” that it was McGovern. Kamat mentioned she thought the nondescript garments matched McGovern’s. The brokers determined the video helped present McGovern an alibi, they testified at a preliminary listening to. NCIS mentioned it couldn’t touch upon pending litigation.

The Navy was additionally fast to dump its personal professional. After Mays was arrested, somebody scrawled on a port-a-potty close to the ship, “I did it. I set the ship on fireplace,” amongst different issues, together with a crude drawing of the ship in flames. The navy’s handwriting examiner mentioned he matched the script to McGovern’s.

Handwriting evaluation is controversial, however the authorities usually presents it as reliable proof. Right here, although, the graffiti didn’t establish the sailor the Navy ended up accusing of the crime, so prosecutors wished it excluded from Mays’ court-martial, arguing at a preliminary listening to it was not strongly conclusive and irrelevant.

McGovern was kicked out of the Navy for misconduct the week of his final interview with investigators, data present.


A ship moored at Naval Base San Diego, 2022


Credit score:
Devin Yalkin, particular to ProPublica

After the Navy misplaced a submarine, the united statesMiami, to a fireplace in a Maine shipyard in 2012, the service adopted a “by no means once more” mentality and issued a brand new 129-page fireplace security guide. Command investigators concluded it was merely a paper repair. Three main fires in shipyards after the Miami had related troubling patterns. And investigators discovered that some admirals in command of upkeep weren’t following the guide.

NCIS had saved investigators from interviewing 150 Bonhomme Richard crew members and others till the primary week of December, 5 months after the hearth, based on the command report. By the point investigators might sit down with the ship’s management, that they had already pieced collectively the ship’s poor situation. As officers got here in one after the other, investigators had been shocked to learn the way little they knew concerning the state of their very own ship.

Capt. Gregory Thoroman, the Bonhomme Richard captain, broke down a number of occasions all through the interview. As a Navy pilot put in cost of a giant ship, he was considerably out of his depth of experience. For instance, Perez hadn’t at all times informed the captain concerning the security necessities he was waiving, investigators wrote, and Thoroman didn’t know sufficient to ask.

The Navy’s backstop system for when an aviator equivalent to Thoromon is in cost is to require the No. 2 be a floor warfare officer. That additionally failed: Capt. D. Michael Ray, investigators realized, wasn’t paying consideration both.

Investigators had been startled to search out that although the ship had just lately loaded 900,000 gallons of gasoline, not one of the ship’s management knew which emergency response programs had been working. Thoroman hadn’t learn the hearth security guide, investigators discovered. Ray and different key officers on the ship, together with Perez, didn’t perceive it. Neither Thoroman nor Ray responded to requests for remark.

Command investigators additionally discovered that the admirals charged with overseeing ships in upkeep hadn’t seen the rising dangers on the Bonhomme Richard. Different admirals and captains accountable for fireplace response didn’t guarantee even foundational precautions, equivalent to having giant fireplace pipes on the piers and the distribution of ship maps to native fireplace departments.

The Navy was in danger for mishandling even a minor fireplace, investigators discovered.


Two men in naval garb, seen from behind
Mays and Torres enter authorized workplaces on Naval Base San Diego in August.


Credit score:
Devin Yalkin, particular to ProPublica

A yr after the hearth, as prime Navy management was endorsing the command investigation findings, the service was additionally charging Mays.

To some, the Navy’s actions had been harking back to an unpleasant piece of its historical past. In 1989 an explosion on a turret of the united statesIowa killed 47 sailors, and the Navy tried to pin it on one of many lifeless sailors, who leaders suspected was homosexual. Solely after Congress stepped in did the Navy acknowledge there was no proof for its assertions.

Extra just lately, after back-to-back collisions within the Pacific in 2017, ProPublica uncovered how the Navy downplayed systemic culpability and fired those that had raised alarms.

After a dayslong possible trigger listening to for Mays in December 2021, the decide mentioned she wasn’t persuaded of Mays’ guilt. A nuclear-trained floor warfare officer who later grew to become a Navy lawyer after which decide, Capt. Angela Tang is understood for being thorough.

“Given the state of the proof offered to me, I don’t imagine there’s a affordable probability of conviction at trial. Due to this fact I don’t suggest referral of those fees although there’s possible trigger to help them,” Tang wrote in her findings.

ProPublica reviewed the conclusions of her 43-page report, which the Navy has withheld from the general public, because it has with nearly all different court docket data within the case. Possible trigger is a low bar, Tang cautioned. In explaining her suggestion to drop the fees towards Mays, she repeatedly refers to “if” the hearth was arson.

Her report additionally notes that protection professional witnesses testified about discovering two different doable causes: lithium batteries that had leaked and exploded and arcing from an engine wire on a forklift. On condition that proof, the specialists testified, the one affordable conclusion was “undetermined.”

Not one of the proof proved the hearth was intentionally set, Tang wrote, and ATF’s conclusion may very well be doubted as a result of brokers missed doable causes discovered by the protection within the 4 hours that they had on the scene. Tang famous Velasco was the prosecution’s lone eyewitness and — even when plausible — wasn’t sufficient to hold the case on. She wrote that Velasco’s credibility was undercut by how lengthy he took to report seeing somebody and by his inconsistent statements, in addition to by different witnesses who contradicted what Velasco mentioned Mays was carrying. Moreover, even when Mays was seen, it didn’t show he set the hearth or that it was arson, she wrote.

She additionally mentioned investigators had legitimate causes to suspect McGovern and wrote that jurors would most likely view Mays’ “I’m responsible” comment as sarcastic.

Tang referenced, too, the Navy’s personal conclusions that if not for systemic failures, the hearth would have been extinguished lengthy earlier than the ship was misplaced. The Navy charged Mays with hazarding a vessel, however Tang wrote the hearth, if arson, appeared supposed to trigger a distraction, not destroy the ship.

Vice Adm. Stephen T. Koehler, the navy commander with the ultimate say about whether or not to prosecute Mays, disregarded Tang’s suggestion. In February, the Navy introduced Koelher had determined to ship Mays to court-martial.


A lot of the Navy’s case towards Mays hinges on his alleged motive. Prosecutors are claiming he was a disgruntled sailor who hated the Navy a lot he torched the ship out of revenge.

The Navy believes Mays was consumed by the conclusion he’d by no means don the SEAL trident, and having to maneuver to a brand new berthing aboard the ship “despatched him over the sting,” one of many prosecutors, Lt. Cmdr. Shannon Gearhart, mentioned at a preliminary listening to.

Mays’ civilian lawyer on the time, Gary Barthel, argued on the possible trigger listening to that Mays’ hubris proved he was an unlikable braggart however not an arsonist.

The younger sailor was additionally making efforts to reapply to SEAL coaching, each via his punishing exercises and by asking for suggestions and taking steps to earn particular {qualifications} to bolster his utility, equivalent to search and rescue swimming, based on Mays and his legal professionals. His mother, Christy Corridor, informed ProPublica that her often-stubborn son “was sure and decided to return” to the coaching program. He’d solely had one strike, and had two extra tries, she mentioned he informed her.

A young man in a white patterned shirt leans against a tree.
Ryan Mays


Credit score:
Devin Yalkin, particular to ProPublica

Two years into the ordeal, at a hilltop park overlooking San Diego, Mays sat with a navy bearing, talking with a newly reflective self-awareness. He mentioned it’s honest for the Navy to say he had a foul angle and didn’t need to be on the Bonhomme Richard.

“I don’t understand how I really feel concerning the phrase ‘disgruntled’ that they’re utilizing proper now. That doesn’t actually make quite a lot of sense to me,” he mentioned. “I used to be similar to each different sailor within the division that didn’t admire, , cleansing shit. And so I don’t know if that makes me disgruntled or not.”

When Tang beneficial towards a court-martial, Mays mentioned, he briefly felt aid. He thought that the nervousness that had him throwing up practically each morning would lastly subside. Then the Navy introduced it could nonetheless prosecute him.

The expertise, particularly his time within the brig, has been “soul crushing,” he mentioned. “A bit of me died in there and I don’t know if I’ll ever get it again.”

The Navy decommissioned the Bonhomme Richard after estimating it could have value $3 billion and a minimum of 5 years to repair. The service mentioned that it made modifications to its fireplace prevention insurance policies, together with instituting random security checks and clarifying the chain of command. Greater than 20 folks, together with three admirals, had been disciplined. The captain, government officer and prime enlisted officer on the ship all obtained punitive letters of reprimand, which is usually a profession ender.

Mays’ protection has famous that on the identical day because the Bonhomme Richard fireplace, one other massive deck ship on the San Diego base caught fireplace. NCIS concluded the united statesEssex fireplace was arson, however that blaze was extinguished earlier than it precipitated any harm. On this case, like Mays’, there was a single eyewitness who recognized somebody on the scene shortly earlier than the hearth was found. However the case was closed with out fees after a yearlong investigation. The agent in cost testified that the suspect was “finally eradicated as a result of nothing extra linked him to the hearth aboard the Essex.”

One in every of Mays’ protection attorneys identified at a preliminary listening to that “the Essex info are eerily related.” Besides that ship didn’t burn down, so the investigation “simply went away,” Lt. Pete Hyperlink mentioned.

Within the Bonhomme Richard case, there was a pricey lack of a whole vessel, Hyperlink mentioned, “and now right here we’re in court docket.”



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