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Ex-cruiser XO punished for assault, harassment

Aug. 15, 2011 - 02:05PM   |   Last Updated: Aug. 15, 2011 - 02:05PM  |  
Cmdr. Joseph Baxter, shown at right in a 2007 photo, was relieved as executive officer of the cruiser Gettysburg in September. He received non-judicial punishment for sexual misconduct.
Cmdr. Joseph Baxter, shown at right in a 2007 photo, was relieved as executive officer of the cruiser Gettysburg in September. He received non-judicial punishment for sexual misconduct. (MC2 Kristen Allen / Navy)
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The former executive officer of the Mayport, Fla.-based cruiser Gettysburg received nonjudicial punishment for sexual harassment and assault at an admiral's mast hearing Monday morning in Norfolk, Va., and could be forced to retire, the Navy announced.

Rear Adm. Dave Thomas, commander of Naval Surface Force Atlantic, held the nonjudicial hearing following a pretrial agreement between Cmdr. Joseph Baxter and Rear Adm. Townsend Alexander, commander of Navy Region Southeast.

Without that agreement, Baxter, who was removed from the ship in September following a Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigation, would have faced a general court-martial on charges of conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman, sexual harassment, wrongful sexual contact and assault, said Lt. Cmdr. Bill Urban, a SURFLANT spokesman.

Thomas docked Baxter one-half month's pay for two months and gave him a punitive letter of reprimand. In addition, as part of the agreement, Baxter waived his right to a board of inquiry. As such, he could be required to retire, Urban said. That decision, along with the characterization of his retirement and the grade at which he will retire, would be up to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, Urban said.

If Mabus decides Baxter must retire, it would take effect immediately, Urban said.

The inquiry began after an allegation was passed to the SURFLANT inspector general on Sept. 24 accusing Baxter of inappropriate physical contact, Urban said. After an initial investigation, the SURFLANT IG handed off the inquiry to NCIS, which conducted a criminal investigation, Urban said.

According to a charge sheet released by the Navy on April 26, the incidents took place in April through July and in September 2010. Urban said they occurred aboard ship, both in Mayport and while Gettysburg was off the coast.

At court-martial, Baxter would have faced three specifications of sexual harassment and one count each of unlawful sexual contact, assault and conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman.

Baxter, who enlisted in September 1985 and was commissioned in May 1993, reported to Gettysburg on Dec. 14, 2009, according to Navy Personnel Command. He was replaced as executive officer in October by Cmdr. John Gray, Urban said. Baxter is assigned to the staff of Destroyer Squadron 14 in Mayport.

Gettysburg deployed in May with the George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group, now in 5th Fleet, Urban said.

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