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Five sailors granted immunity to testify in Navy SEAL’s sexual assault trial

Navy SEAL Adel Enayat, accused of sexual assault, walks across a street after appearing for a hearing at Naval Base San Diego
Navy SEAL Adel Enayat, accused of sexual assault, walks across a street after appearing for a hearing at Naval Base San Diego on Aug. 21, 2020.
(Eduardo Contreras / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Five sailors, including three Navy SEALs, have been granted immunity to testify in the case of a SEAL charged with sexually assaulting a fellow sailor during a deployment to Iraq in 2019, prosecutors said during a hearing Tuesday.

Special Warfare Operator 1st Class Adel Enayat is accused of assaulting a female sailor after an alcohol-fueled Fourth of July party, leaving bruises on her face and body. According to the charges, he strangled the woman, bit her face and penetrated her without consent. A friend later took photos of the woman’s injuries, according to the Associated Press.

Enayat denies the charges.

The party was held two days after another SEAL Team 7 member from a different platoon — Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward Gallagher — was acquitted on charges that he murdered an Islamic State fighter and shot civilians in 2017 in Iraq. He was convicted of posing for pictures with the corpse of the dead fighter.

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Enayat’s civilian attorney Jeremiah Sullivan argued that previous SEAL cases involving Enayat’s SEAL Team 7 have tainted the Navy legal community and the investigative process.

It was unclear what the immunized witnesses may say under oath, though at a previous hearing, Sullivan said more than one affirmed seeing the woman sitting on Enayat’s lap. The woman allegedly told a friend that the encounter started as consensual before it became violent, the AP reported.

The Gallagher case — and all its twists and turns — was at the center of arguments by Sullivan, who said the misconduct of San Diego Navy prosecutors, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the words of former Naval Special Warfare Commander Rear Adm. Collin Green during and after Gallagher’s court-martial raise questions about Enayat’s ability to get a fair hearing.

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Sullivan also said witnesses were reluctant to talk to him, in part because of the alleged prosecutorial misconduct that occurred in the Gallagher case and also because the case had garnered so much media attention.

Sullivan argued that the same issues affected Enayat’s case, that prosecutors should be compelled to produce documents and court rulings from the Gallagher trial.

Prosecutors argued Sullivan did not submit any evidence that anyone involved in the Gallagher case was also involved in Enayat’s case or that support his argument that they are relevant to the current case. The judge, Cmdr. Chad Temple, said he’d take Sullivan’s concerns under advisement and did not rule on the motion.

Potential conflicts on the Navy’s side are not the only connections between the Gallagher and Enayat cases.

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Sullivan also represented Lt. Jacob Portier, Gallagher’s platoon commander in Iraq, who also was charged in connection with that 2017 deployment. The Navy dropped charges against Portier in the wake of the Gallagher decision after then Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson assumed control of several SEAL war crimes cases.

One of Gallagher’s civilian attorneys, Tim Parlatore, represents Navy SEAL Chief Nicholas Olson, one of the witnesses in the case. Olson was also accused of sexual misconduct in Iraq in 2017 by a female sailor and was expelled from the SEALs, the AP reported.

Olson was the subject of an administrative separation board last week in San Diego, a matter that came up in court Tuesday. A person with knowledge of the proceeding said that board members “unanimously” ruled in Olson’s favor and that although he lost his coveted SEAL Trident, he won’t be kicked out of the Navy.

Parlatore declined to comment.

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A Naval Special Warfare Command spokesman also declined to comment, citing privacy concerns over administrative matters. Olson, and the female sailor who accused him of misconduct, are among those granted immunity to testify.

Another connection to the Gallagher case involves another witness attorney, Brian Ferguson. Ferguson represented more than a dozen members of Gallagher’s platoon in that case, including then-SEAL Petty Officer 1st Class Corey Scott, who, in dramatic fashion, confessed on the witness stand that he — not Gallagher — killed the Islamic State fighter under their care by suffocating the 15-year-old after Gallagher stabbed him in the neck.

Ferguson represents multiple members of Enayat’s platoon. One of Ferguson’s clients, an explosives ordnance disposal technician, was attached to both Gallagher’s and Enayat’s platoons and was on initial witness lists in both cases. He did not testify at Gallagher’s trial, and it’s not clear whether he will testify at Enayat’s.

Enayat will be back in court for a hearing in November, with trial scheduled to start Feb. 1.

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Dyer writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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