A member of the Navy’s elite SEAL Team 6 will spend a year in confinement for his involvement in the 2017 hazing death of an Army Green Beret.
Chief Special Warfare Operator Adam Matthews described the June 4, 2017 death of Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar in Bamako, Mali as a hazing incident turned cover up during a day-long special court martial at Naval Station Norfolk Thursday. He pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit assault, obstruction of justice, unlawful entering, and hazing in the case.
Matthews was the first of four special operators to appear in court in the Melgar case. Chief Special Warfare Operator Tony DeDolph and Marine Raiders Gunnery Sgt. Mario Madera-Rodriguez and Staff Sgt. Kevin Maxwell, Jr., face murder, involuntary manslaughter, conspiracy, obstruction of justice and hazing charges. Matthews also faced murder and involuntary manslaughter charges, but they were dismissed.
Military judge Capt. Michael J. Luken also sentenced Matthews to a bad conduct discharge that he recommended be reconsidered for a less punitive discharge later for his continued cooperation in testifying against other service members in the case as well as with agreement from the Melgar family. Luken said his recommendation was based on Matthews’ 16 years of service and because of medical issues he faces as a result of his work. Luken also reduced Matthews’ rank to petty officer second class.
Matthews described the incident as a “juvenile” plot hatched to fix Melgar’s behavior after he ditched Madera-Rodriguez and Maxwell, Jr., on their way to an event at an embassy earlier that evening. Later, the Marines and another SEAL met at a local night club where they talked about what to do with Melgar, adding that it “became more juvenile in nature” as the night went on.
The “plan was to break into his room and secure him with duct tape and embarrass him with a video after that,” Matthews told Luken. Matthews also said the incident was approved by Melgar’s team leader, an Army sergeant 1st class, who did not object and who “went back to bed.”
Matthews described helping to tape Melgar’s feet and wrists after the men broke into his room in their shared Army and Navy home in the early morning hours. Melgar became unresponsive after being held in a what Matthews called a “blood choke,” a type of chokehold meant to restrict blood flow to the brain. He called Melgar’s death “tragic but completely unintended.”
After the incident, Matthews said he and DeDolph agreed to “own” it while leaving the Marines’ involvement out it.
According to Navy biographical information, Matthews enlisted in 2003. He has served on East Coast-based teams since 2005. He said Thursday that he had arrived in Bamako on June 2 for what he called a “site visit” and that over the course of 36 hours “it became apparent among the team that there were perceived performance issues” related to Melgar.
Melgar’s widow, Michelle, said her husband, who enlisted in the Army in 2012, had typically looked forward to deployments but described to her a growing sadness on his last one. She said he had told her multiple times over the phone and text that the SEALs he was deployed with were “very immature, doing very immature things.” The couple spoke by Facetime about three hours before he died, she said, and when he didn’t text her as usual that morning, she suspected something could be wrong.
“I just wanted somebody to tell the truth about what happened in his room,” she said.
Matthews faced a maximum year in confinement, a bad conduct discharge, a two-thirds reduction in pay and a reduction in rank to seaman recruit. One of his two civilian attorneys, retired Rear Adm. Christian Reismeier, described his client leaving his high school in Arlington on the day of the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 to watch the Pentagon burn. But instead of doing what was right on June 4, 2017, Matthews chose to go along with a “stupid idea.”
“No way you can justify it,” Reismeier said.
In an unsworn statement before the court, Matthews took heavy breaths as he apologized to Melgar’s family, the special forces community and his family and friends.
“I am tormented by my complacency at a time that my teammates required my guidance and the situation required bold corrective action,” he said.
©2019 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)
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