The Naval Criminal Investigative Service has finished its investigation of the death of a former recruit and says the Corps has not brought any charges based on NCIS findings.
This revelation comes a day after a U.S. Congresswoman asked the Beaufort County coroner to change the classification of that recruit’s death.
The NCIS investigation of former Recruit Depot Parris Island trainee Raheel Siddiqui’s death concluded recently, “about two to three weeks ago,” according to agency spokesperson Ed Buice.
When asked what the investigation found, Buice said he hadn’t seen the investigation but that its findings were presented to the Corps’ Training and Education Command, which, according to Buice, would be the entity in this case to determine whether there was any criminal wrongdoing.
“My understanding is the convening authority” — TECOM’s commander, Major Gen. James W. Lukeman — “is declining to bring charges,” Buice said.
TECOM could not be immediately reached for comment. That unit has previously announced charges against multiple Marines — six of whom face courts-martial — based on its own investigations in the wake of Siddiqui’s death.
In March 2016, shortly after Siddiqui’s death, NCIS said it did not suspect foul play in the incident.
When asked if the agency stood by that assessment, Buice said: “The statement at that time is correct, but that was at the start of the investigation. But the final decision on whether or not that’s the case rests with (TECOM), but I have no reason to believe our statement, at that time, wasn’t correct.”
Siddiqui, a 20-year-old Muslim American of Pakistani descent from Taylor, Mich., died from injuries sustained after a three-story fall at the depot on March 18, 2016. Shortly before the fall, he was reportedly disciplined and slapped in the face by a drill instructor. And at some point before his death, he was allegedly called a “terrorist” by that drill instructor.
Gunnery Sgt. Joseph A. Felix, a former Parris Island drill instructor, is set to stand trial in military court for his alleged involvement in the incident. His general court-martial — the highest-level of military trial — is scheduled for Aug. 7-25 at Base Camp Lejeune, N.C. He is accused of violations of military code ranging from cruelty and maltreatment to obstruction of justice. He is also alleged to have been involved in a previous incident involving a separate Muslim recruit who was reportedly ordered into a commercial clothes dryer and questioned about his faith and loyalty.
News of the NCIS investigation comes after U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) wrote a letter Tuesday to Beaufort County Coroner Ed Allen and Medical University South Carolina physician Dr. Lee Marie Tormos asking them to change the status of Siddiqui’s death from suicide to “pending” or “undetermined.”
“The original finding of suicide made by your offices was based on facts immediately available after the death,” Dingell wrote. “Since then, new information has come to light about the circumstances surrounding his death. The Command Investigation states that ‘several factors contributed to (Private Siddiqui’s) death, including maltreatment by his drill instructor team, leadership failures at multiple levels of command, and administrative and process failures, that if avoided, could have reduced the risk of his death.’
“The report goes into further detail about the physical abuse Private Siddiqui faced, including being slapped in the face moments before his death,” she continued. “While we will never know what happened, I am convinced he did not intend to kill himself that day, which is the definition of suicide.”
Allen said Wednesday morning he’d not yet received a hard or electronic copy of Dingell’s letter. But he responded to the document when it was shared with him by The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette.
“(O)ut of due respect to (Dingell),” Allen said, “what she’s mentioning about additional information, I have no knowledge of that. … Our decision is what it is, based on the information that was provided to us (at the time).”
“We have reviewed what was presented to us,” he continued, “and right now it remains (a suicide) until we can get anything that indicates otherwise.”
When asked to elaborate on specific factors that influenced the decision to rule Siddiqui’s death a suicide, Allen declined to comment.
A spokesperson for MUSC who said she’d reached Tormos on Wednesday morning said Tormos “explained (Allen) is the appropriate person to contact” with questions.
Allen said his office has been contacted before by Siddiqui family attorney Shiraz Khan, who’s also requested Allen change the classification of the former trainee’s death.
In a statement late Wednesday night, Khan wrote that he’d contacted Allen and MUSC on April 14.
Khan noted several reasons for requesting the change, namely “the release of several enclosures” of a command investigation of Siddiqui’s death, and medical evidence in possession of the Corps, NCIS and his own office.
The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette reached out to Khan on Wednesday morning for more information about the enclosures and medical evidence, but he could not be immediately reached for comment.
NCIS investigations are standard after a death, Buice said. Their purpose is to discover whether any “criminal causality” might exist. But he reiterated that it’s a command’s decision to make that final determination.
When asked if NCIS had made any determinations about the classification of Siddiqui’s death — meaning suicide or otherwise — Buice said it’s the job of an armed forces medical examiner to determine “cause and manner.”
But Buice said there was nothing in his agency’s investigation to indicate a change in the way Siddiqui is reported to have died.
“He propelled himself” off the third story, Buice said.
This story will be updated.
Wade Livingston: 843-706-8153, @WadeGLivingston
(c)2017 The Island Packet (Hilton Head, S.C.) — www.islandpacket.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.