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Navy Officer Accused of Obstructing Death Investigation

Out on bond, a high-ranking Navy commander is facing charges that he covered up his bloody fight with a man who disappeared from Guantanamo Bay after confronting the commander about an extramarital affair and was later found dead.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (CN) - Out on bond, a high-ranking Navy commander is facing charges that he covered up his bloody fight with a man who disappeared from Guantanamo Bay after confronting the commander about an extramarital affair and was later found dead.

Federal prosecutors say that Guantanamo Bay Naval Base's then-commander, Capt. John Nettleton, repeatedly obstructed an investigation into the death of Christopher Tur, whose body was found floating off the coast of Cuba. Nettleton concealed from his superiors and naval investigators that there had been a violent altercation between him and Tur shortly before Tur went missing, prosecutors claim. 

A onetime commanding officer of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, Navy Capt. John R. Nettleton speaks during a Battle of Midway commemoration ceremony on June 3, 2014. Nettleton was arrested Jan. 9, 2018, on charges that he interfered with the investigation into the death of a civilian with whom he fought after an argument over whether the officer had had an affair with the man's wife. (Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jacob Goff/U.S. Navy via AP)

According to the indictment, Nettleton was covering up the altercation – and his affair with Tur's wife – at the same time he was directing a massive search for Tur. 

Nettleton on Wednesday entered an initial plea of not guilty on all counts. He faces charges of obstruction of justice and falsification of records, among other counts. Prosecutors have not filed any charges that accuse him of being directly responsible for the death. 

Tur, who had moved to Guantanamo Bay with his family to work as a civilian employee, disappeared from the base in January 2015 after an alcohol-fueled farewell party for a departing base leader at a Guantanamo Bay officer's club known as the Bayview. 

Outside the Bayview club, Tur confronted Nettleton about his affair with Tur's wife, sparking the altercation, prosecutors say. The dispute escalated when Tur followed Nettleton back to Nettleton's nearby home on base, they say.

Tur never made it back to his wife and family that night, according to the indictment. 

During the subsequent search, Nettleton allegedly led his superior officer to believe Tur was suicidal. He allowed an inaccurate "Navy Blue" alert to be sent out regarding the disappearance, which incorrectly stated that Tur had last been seen at the Bayview complex, according to the court documents. Prosecutors claim the commander at one point denied a request for helicopter assistance in the search.

Tur's remains were discovered Jan. 11, 2015, in the waters of Guantanamo Bay, drifting near the territorial border with Cuba. 

A military medical examiner determined that Tur had drowned. The autopsy report indicated there was a laceration on Tur's head, and that he had broken ribs likely suffered prior to his death. 

After the body was located, Nettleton allegedly continued covering up his fight with Tur. 

Little did Nettleton know Tur had called an associate – now a key witness – in the midst of the chaos, according to prosecutors. During the call, "Tur stated words to the effect that he was 'at the skipper's house' and that he had 'just knocked the skipper out,'" they say.  

Nettleton's daughter's text messages purportedly corroborate the narrative that Nettleton himself was hurt in the fight. In an apparently panicked state, the daughter told her friends she saw her dad unconscious on the floor, with a man – who prosecutors understand to be Tur – standing over him. 

Telling a friend she was "confused and terrified," the girl wrote: "Um well my dad's really drunk and some other dude is here, and they're like getting into a fight downstairs."

Not long after Tur's remains were discovered, naval investigators came to a pier to collect a towel that had been found with Tur's blood on it.

Nettleton allegedly told the investigators, "That's probably nothing." 

During a Jan. 13, 2015, discussion with an admiral about the death, Nettleton finally admitted to having an argument with Tur the night of his disappearance, according to the indictment. He allegedly said he hadn't previously revealed the dispute because he "didn't think it was particularly relevant." 

Tur's blood was later found in Nettleton's residence, after which point Nettleton was fired from his job as base commander, according to a Navy Times report. 

On Wednesday, a federal judge in Florida released Nettleton on bond to his home near Jacksonville. His attorney has not responded to a request for comment on the charges.

Categories / Criminal, National

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