A former Corps Recruit Depot drill instructor linked to the hazing and abuse of a Muslim trainee has reportedly reached a plea agreement and will testify against a fellow .
Sgt. Michael K. Eldridge will testify against Gunnery Sgt. Joseph A. Felix in the latter’s forthcoming general court-martial — the highest military court — slated to begin at the end of October, according to Military.com, which cited “multiple sources.”
A Corps investigation linked both men, formerly drill instructors in the depot’s 3rd Recruit Training Battalion, to the hazing of Ameer Bourmeche. In July 2015, shortly before Bourmeche and his platoon mates graduated, he was ordered to get inside a commercial clothes dryer. The dryer was turned on repeatedly, and he suffered burns. During the incident he was interrogated about his Muslim faith and his loyalty to the U.S.
The Corps’ Training and Education Command announced Friday that Eldridge — who was previously facing a general court-martial for charges including cruelty and maltreatment — will now be tried at a low-level summary court-martial. The proceeding will not be open to the public. The Corps offered no explanation for the change.
Last week The Packet and Beaufort Gazette asked TECOM if Eldridge had reached a pre-trial plea agreement, or if he would testify against Felix. In response, TECOM spokesperson Capt. Joshua Pena wrote in a text message: “The command will not be able to provide any additional information before the conclusion of the proceedings. The command will provide an update following the conclusion of the summary court-martial.”
According to the Corps Times, summary courts-martial “are typically used for relatively minor offenses and can result in a maximum punishment of 30 days’ confinement and loss of rank.”
Earlier last week the Corps said Eldridge’s case status has “changed” and was pending. Former lead prosecutor and local attorney Brian Magee said that, when cases statuses are pending, a variety of things can be happening behind the scenes. Those things range from changes of venues — what has apparently happened to Eldridge’s case — to forthcoming guilty pleas that negate contested trials.
Magee was part of Eldridge’s defense team until a few weeks ago. Citing attorney-client privilege, he declined to discuss why he no longer represented Eldridge. When asked Friday if he knew about the status of Eldridge’s case, Magee said, “I have not been involved with his case in a while.”
Felix has also been linked to the death of former recruit Raheel Siddiqui on March 18, 2016.
A Corps investigation found the two allegedly had an altercation moments before the recruit jumped from the third story of his barracks and later died of his injuries.
Siddiqui had reportedly tried to request permission from Felix, his senior drill instructor, to go to medical. Siddiqui apparently failed to appropriately convey the request, and Felix punished him with a series of punitive sprints across the barracks.
Siddiqui collapsed to the floor and, according to some witnesses, was non-responsive. Felix attempted to wake Siddiqui, then, reportedly, forcefully slapped him in the face multiple times. Then, Siddiqui jumped up, ran out the back of the barracks and vaulted over the third-story railing near the stairwell.
According to the Corps, Felix should not have been supervising Siddiqui’s platoon because he was already being investigated for the clothes dryer incident.
Lt. Col. Joshua Kissoon — former 3rd Recruit Training Battalion commander — faces a general court-martial for failing to sideline Felix.
Kissoon was arraigned last week. No date has been set for his trial.
Wade Livingston: 843-706-8153, @WadeGLivingston
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