Court-Martialed Officer Can Pursue Clemency

     (CN) – A Navy officer fired for having sex with the husband of a sailor under her command can continue her fight for clemency, a federal judge ruled.
     Syneeda Lynn Penland was serving as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy when photos surfaced that allegedly showed the unmarried Penland having sex with the husband of one of her sailors.
     Chief Petty Officer Kimberly Lewis-Wiggan found the photos on a flash drive, showing Penland with Lt. Mark Wiggan, from whom Lewis-Wiggan was divorcing.
     Wiggan was granted immunity by the Navy, but Penland was charged in 2007 with five violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, including adultery and conduct unbecoming an officer. A charge of committing indecent acts was dismissed.
     Penland fired back with an Equal Opportunity complaint, in which she alleged racial discrimination and retaliation. The Navy found her claims to be unsubstantiated.
     The court martial convicted Penland in 2008 of the remaining four counts and sentenced her to 60 days confinement, a written reprimand and the loss of $4,500 worth of pay.
     The Navy’s Board of Inquiry voted later that year to separate Penland from the service for the conduct underlying her conviction, as well as for substandard performance of duty.
     After her separation became official, Penland asked the Board of Correction for Naval Records to vacate her conviction and reactivate her, so she could retire with a pension, benefits and honors.
     The BCNR denied her request, stating that her sentence was appropriate “considering the serious nature of (her) offenses.”
     Also, the BCNR ruled that Penland did not prove that her complaints of fraud, abuse and waste covered her under the Military Whistleblower Protection Act.
     In a lawsuit against Secretary of the Navy Raymond E. Mabus Jr., Penland asked the D.C. Federal Court to overturn the BCNR ruling and to order it to grant her an honorable discharge.
     U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collier agreed with the BCNR that it could not unilaterally overturn Penland’s conviction.
     However, Collier ruled that the BCNR misinterpreted the Military Whistleblower Protection Act.
     “Ms. Penland asserts that she complained to senior officers about waste, fraud and abuse in the Navy’s contractors and contracting policies in Afghanistan and Iran in 2006, before she was charged with violations of the UCMJ,” Collier stated. “Her complaints allegedly fell on deaf ears until she took them to the Inspector General in April 2007.”
     Collier added that the BCNR erred when it stated that Penland would only be protected if she complained to the Inspector General or a member of Congress before the alleged retaliation.
     Therefore, Collier remanded the case to the BCNR “to reconsider whether Ms. Penland was a whistleblower under the MWPA and, if so, whether she is entitled to clemency.”

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