Navy commander drunk, groped U.S. sailor, court martial hears

A senior naval officer, second in command of HMCS Calgary, got drunk and groped the buttocks of a U.S. Coast Guard sailor, a court martial in Esquimalt heard Wednesday.

“He was groping at her behind on the buttocks for at least a full minute,” said military prosecutor Major Edward Cottrill, making his closing argument.

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It was the final day in the court martial of Commander Joshua Yanchus. Yanchus faces three military charges: disobeying an order, drunkenness, and conduct to the prejudice of good order and discipline.

Military Judge Col. Mario Dutil has promised a verdict on Monday.

Yanchus is now serving in Ottawa on the Strategic Joint Staff.

The charges relate to an alleged incident in July 2014, when Yanchus was a lieutenant-commander and serving on board HMCS Calgary as executive officer.

HMCS Calgary was in port in Hawaii, taking part in RIMPAC 2014, a U.S.-Navy led exercise involving marine forces from nations ringing the Pacific. It is described as the largest international naval exercise in the world.

It’s alleged Yanchus disobeyed an order from the captain prohibiting “mixed messing” — that is, officers, petty officers and seamen mingling in one another’s messes, areas of the ship where celebrations can occur and alcohol can be served.

Yanchus is alleged to have gone to the junior ranks mess, was drunk, and came into contact with a female sailor with the U.S. Coast Guard. Sailors from other countries, including the U.S., Australia and Chile, were visiting the ship.

Four Canadian sailors testified about Yanchus’s behaviour with the U.S. sailor. Their descriptions ranged from a dance, a kiss on the cheek, necking to full-on groping.

But, significant in its absence, according to the defence, was any testimony from the U.S. sailor, who was not called to testify.

“Where is the American coast guard sailor?” asked defence lawyer David Bright. “Where is she to say this is what happened?”

Bright, a civilian selected by Yanchus, said the prosecution’s case was missing good evidence to back any of the allegations.

Even the failure to comply with the order prohibiting mixed messing is more likely a misunderstanding and not outright disobedience, Bright said.

The evidence of drunkenness was limited to testimony from one junior-rank sailor, who testified to seeing Yanchus stumble and grab a sofa for support.

But there is no evidence or testimony to indicate any of Yanchus’s behaviour was actually prejudicial to good order on board ship, Bright said.

If anything, the crew of HMCS Calgary turned in an outstanding performance during RIMPAC 2014, he said.

Bright noted that Capt. (N) John Wilson, in charge of HMCS Calgary during the night of the allegations, called Yanchus a “wonderful XO [executive officer]” and said “I would sail with him tomorrow.”

rwatts@timescolonist.com

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