California’s top military brass rocked by homophobia, antisemitism, indecent exposure scandals
A top general in the California National Guard violated government rules by having subordinates ferry his mother on a shopping trip, perform other personal errands for him and complete a part of his cybersecurity training.
A second general allegedly made antisemitic and homophobic remarks, including that Jews are unrepentant sinners and that gay marriage is a reason terrorists attack the United States.
And a colonel who serves as a Guard finance officer and had been recommended for promotion to general has been charged with exposing himself to three women in a restaurant.
Those are among the latest embarrassing episodes to tarnish the Guard, a branch of the California Military Department that has been beset in recent years by allegations of cover-ups and retaliation against whistleblowers, a Times investigation based on Guard documents and interviews has found.
Current and former Guard members say there is a widespread perception in the organization that high-ranking officers who engage in misconduct are protected from significant discipline.
One of the generals found by an internal inquiry to have committed acts of wrongdoing was issued a letter of admonishment, and the other received a letter of reprimand, according to the Guard. After The Times began inquiring about their cases in recent weeks, the Guard said one general resigned and the other faces new discipline that has yet to be determined. There are 13 generals in the California Military Department, and four have been caught up in controversies since 2019.
The California National Guard has been buffeted by allegations of misconduct in its upper ranks, coverups and retaliation against whistleblowers.
“When these things happen, the higher-ups cover for each other. And without public exposure of these things, there would be absolutely no real punishment,” said Dan Woodside, a retired Guard major and fighter pilot who has publicly criticized the organization’s leadership. “We need an overhaul of the entire system.”
Interviews and Guard records reviewed by The Times show that other allegations of misconduct include:
– A captain allegedly referred to a Latino sergeant as a “lazy Mexican” and harassed an African American soldier because he was a “Black Lives Matter guy.” Another captain has been accused of asking a Jewish soldier if cigar ashes were his “relatives.” Both captains allegedly falsified physical fitness certifications for Guard members.
– A wing commander for the air side of the Guard faces complaints that she used a military credit card to buy cleaning supplies for her dog and had underlings walk the pet at work.
– The vice wing commander at the same air station was grounded because of a drunk driving arrest.
In response to Times queries, the Guard said all of the allegations and incidents are or were the subject of internal investigations. Maj. Gen. David Baldwin, who has headed the Guard throughout the years of scandal and turmoil, declined to be interviewed. In an emailed statement, he said that “when we do have allegations of misconduct, we take them seriously and address them in accordance with applicable law and regulation, safeguarding due process rights of all concerned.”
Baldwin reports to Gov. Gavin Newsom, who declined to comment, a spokesperson said.
The 20,000-member Guard serves a dual state-and-federal mission that includes responding to emergencies in California, such as earthquakes, wildfires and civil disturbances, and assisting U.S. armed forces in military operations overseas. Baldwin has been adjutant general of the Guard since 2011, when he was appointed by then-Gov. Jerry Brown.
In 2019, Baldwin removed the commander of the Air National Guard, Maj. Gen. Clay Garrison, amid complaints of reprisals against whistleblowers and allegations of a cover-up of misconduct that reached into the highest ranks of the organization. The complaints, which were disclosed by The Times, focused on the leadership of the Fresno air base and included an alleged cover-up of an incident in which someone urinated in a female Guard member’s boots. The commander of the 144th Fighter Wing there was also removed.
In 2020, in response to another Times report, Newsom’s office denounced the Guard’s decision to send a military spy plane to suburban El Dorado Hills, where Baldwin lived, to help civilian authorities monitor demonstrations over the police killing of George Floyd. Baldwin said the fact that he resided in El Dorado Hills, where the protests were small and peaceful, had no bearing on the deployment of the RC-26B reconnaissance plane.
Last year, Baldwin fired Garrison’s successor, Maj. Gen. Gregory Jones, and suspended Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Magram with pay as director of the air staff and reassigned him to human resources and humanitarian duties. Those actions followed a Times report that Guard members were concerned that their leaders had readied an F-15C fighter jet in 2020 for a possible mission in which the aircraft would fly low over civilian protesters to frighten and disperse them. Baldwin denied that the jet had been prepared for such a deployment and said the moves against Jones and Magram had nothing to do with the report.
An F-15C air-to-air combat jet was placed on alert in case of unrest over the pandemic or election, sources and records say. The Guard denies it.
Magram, who has been a member of Baldwin’s inner circle as an assistant adjutant general, is the focus of one of the Guard’s latest upheavals.
According to interviews and a confidential report obtained by The Times, the U.S. Air Force inspector general conducted an investigation into conduct by Magram over a period of seven years ending in 2020. The investigation was completed last year but has never been made public.
A heavily redacted inspector general’s report reviewed by The Times states that the inquiry grew out of complaints by a woman in the Guard that, among other allegations, Magram stopped consulting her on inquiries into misconduct, which was part of her duties, and abused his authority. The woman’s name is redacted in the report.
Magram denied the allegations in written statements to the inspector general, the report says. The investigation determined that he did not inappropriately limit the woman’s role in investigations, according to the report. He was also accused of requiring subordinates to pick up documents he placed on the floor for shredding, and the report states that he was counseled about the practice and stopped it.
The investigation found that Magram had on-duty Guard members drive him up to 120 miles round-trip to personal dental and medical appointments at Travis Air Force Base, according to the report. The document quoted one unnamed Guard member as saying he did not want to drive Magram because “my job is to take care of the airmen in the state of California and not be a chauffeur for a general.”
A Guard member who took Magram’s mother shopping was quoted in the report as saying that “she was particular. When I say particular, it had to be at Whole Foods. … It just took her a long time to decide what she wanted, a lot of comparison shopping amongst products.”
The Guard reconnaissance aircraft flew over peaceful protests in the upscale community of El Dorado Hills, the location of Maj. Gen. David S. Baldwin’s home.
The report says the Guard member feared her career would suffer if she declined Magram’s request to “cart around” his mother: “If you were not on his good side, then, um, yeah, he would kind of discard or try to make sure that you were kind of put to the side,” the member is quoted as saying. She said Magram also had her drive him to his credit union to get money for someone’s birthday card, according to the report.
Magram generally confirmed the members’ accounts of running errands for him, according to the report. He said he believed subordinates giving him rides to medical appointments was consistent with the Air Force’s “wingman concept,” in which Guard members look out for one another. “I want to reiterate that had I ever heard of any ethics issues like this from subordinates, peers or commanders, or perceptions of such, I would have corrected or addressed it on the spot,” Magram said in a statement to the inspector general.
However, Magram had been counseled in 2017 that tasking Guard members for rides to personal appointments was inappropriate, the report states, adding that his wingman argument “rings hollow.” The investigation similarly faulted him for using an underling to work on his travel awards accounts, including for personal trips.
And the inquiry determined that Magram failed to complete his annual cybersecurity training and thus had subordinates each day request that headquarters temporarily restore his computer access. This went on for about two weeks, until he had the training finished by a subordinate. Magram said in his statement that he was late in completing the training because of “a tremendously busy operational tempo.”
The head of the California Air National Guard and one of its five wing commanders have been removed from their positions amid complaints of reprisals against whistleblowers and allegations of a cover-up of misconduct that reached into the highest ranks of the organization, officials announced Friday.
Magram did not respond to interview requests. In a statement to The Times, Lt. Col. Brandon Hill, a Guard spokesperson, said the Air Force issued a letter of admonishment to Magram as a result of the inspector general investigation. Such a letter is a lesser form of punishment than a letter of reprimand. In Magram’s case, Hill said, the letter is not “career-ending.”
After further Times queries, however, the Guard said a second investigation of Magram by a state inspector general substantiated similar allegations against him, and he awaits another round of discipline.
Meanwhile, according to confidential Guard records reviewed by The Times and interviews with four people familiar with the incidents, a chief warrant officer alleged that Brig. Gen. David Hawkins, in an apparent state of irritation, charged toward her at Guard headquarters, causing her to fall backward and into a wall.
Hill said in an email to The Times that an in-house investigation by two other generals “did not substantiate this allegation,” a conclusion reached in January.
Hill would not provide details on how the inquiry determined the accusation could not be substantiated. Hawkins told The Times the incident “did not happen.” The chief warrant officer, Lori Sandes, declined to be interviewed.
An internal inquiry substantiated the allegations that Hawkins made the slurs about Jews and gay people, and he received a letter of reprimand as a result, Hill said.
Responding to a subsequent Times query, Hill confirmed that Hawkins had resigned.
Hawkins told The Times that “those allegations are largely untrue,” and he specifically denied making the statement about terrorist attacks. He said he believed the allegations were lodged by someone who overheard and misconstrued a conversation he had with a chaplain.
“At no time was there any characterization of any kind that was meant to defame,” Hawkins said. Asked if he was forced to resign, he replied, “I would not comment on that. It’s just time for me to move on.”
The Guard’s troubles extended well beyond the California state line. Col. Jonathan Cartwright was arrested in March on suspicion of exposing himself to three women at a restaurant in Arlington County, Va. Police booked Cartwright on a misdemeanor charge, and he was released from jail on his promise to appear in court. A hearing is scheduled for July.
Hill said Cartwright had been recommended for promotion to general. The colonel, he said, remains on active duty but has been barred from Guard properties until his criminal case is resolved. Hill referred other questions about Cartwright to the National Guard Bureau in Washington, D.C., because he is part of its chain of command. A bureau spokesperson declined to comment, and it was unclear how the criminal case might affect his proposed promotion. Cartwright did not respond to interview requests.
Closer to home, an internal complaint accused Capt. Brandon Hamilton of telling members of the State Guard, a branch of the California Military Department made up of volunteers, that a Latino sergeant was a “lazy Mexican” in part because he resisted a directive to return to field duty after being hospitalized and then isolated with COVID-19, two sources told The Times. Hamilton allegedly targeted a Black sergeant for harassment and retaliation after labeling him a “Black Lives Matter guy,” according to these sources, who requested anonymity because they feared they would be punished for speaking out.
The alleged mistreatment of the Black sergeant included unfairly critiquing his work and preventing him from completing a search-and-rescue course and then disciplining him for it, the sources said.
The officer accused of uttering the slur about ashes to a Jewish soldier is Capt. Marc Gates, according to the sources and internal records examined by The Times. Gates and Hamilton also are alleged to have falsified physical fitness certifications for Guard members by recording run times for them for runs that never occurred, the interviews and records show.
The Guard declined to release information on the allegations against Hamilton and Gates because they are still under investigation, officials said. Hamilton and Gates did not respond to interview requests. Neither did the Latino and Black sergeants — Jeremy Hernandez and Prezell Harris, respectively — nor the Jewish soldier, Jesse Poller.
The commander of the Guard’s 146th Airlift Wing at Channel Islands, Col. Lisa Nemeth, has been accused of having subordinates tend to her dog and buy a carpet scrubber and cleaning solution for the pet with a government purchase card. The Guard said the allegations are under investigation and officials declined to comment further. Nemeth declined to comment.
The vice commander of the 146th wing was charged with drunk driving in March 2021. Col. Bill Green was grounded the day after the incident and underwent a required evaluation for longer-term alcohol or drug abuse, according to records and interviews. He received a letter of reprimand, but a commander allowed him to eventually resume flying missions. Baldwin ordered him grounded again, and had an investigation launched into whether Green had received preferential treatment. The results of that inquiry have not been disclosed.
Green, who retired from the Guard in February, told The Times that he was fully accountable for his conduct. “I believe I met my responsibilities that came with that,” he said. “I had a series of penalties to pay as a result of my actions. I’m grateful for the time I served. I know of no preferential or unfair treatment in my case.”
In his statement to The Times, Baldwin said, “If, after a federal and/or state investigation, allegations are substantiated, then this command and/or the relevant federal entity takes appropriate action. The bottom line is we have an effective system in place that deals with allegations of inappropriate behavior.”
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