Caught in a political firestorm for her leadership of the Regional Legal Service Office Southwest during a pair of SEAL war crimes cases that fell apart, the Navy relieved Capt. Meg Larrea on Monday.
But Navy spokesman Cmdr. Jereal E. Dorsey cautions not to read anything into that, calling Larrea’s relief an "accelerated change of command ceremony” 14 days before she was slated to relinquish her office to Capt. Jennie Goldsmith.
Deputy Judge Advocate General Rear Adm. Darse E. Crandall Jr. presided over what was described as a private ceremony, without an end of the tour award for her.
It’s unclear if she has orders to another command but Monday’s event wasn’t a retirement ceremony.
Larrea has been in the spotlight for her decision to bestow four Navy Achievement Medals on junior officers on July 10 for their roles in the prosecution of Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward “Eddie” Gallagher for charges that included premeditated murder, attempted murder and obstruction of justice.
Although the war crimes case against him collapsed and a military panel of his peers only found him guilty on a minor charge of appearing in photographs with a dead prisoner of war in Iraq in 2017, Larrea’s NAM citations lauded the prosecutors for “superior performance," “brilliant legal acumen” and other courtroom feats.
That irked President Donald J. Trump, who took to Twitter on July 31 to announce that he’d ordered Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson to nix the NAMs.
“Not only did they lose the case, they had difficulty with respect to information that may have been obtained from opposing lawyers and for giving immunity in a totally incompetent fashion,” Trump tweeted.
The four officers weren’t found culpable of any wrongdoing, but their team was sanctioned by Navy judge Capt. Aaron Rugh for violating Gallagher’s constitutional rights.
Part of his punishment included booting Cmdr. Christopher Czaplak, the lead prosecutor, for a warrantless surveillance program cooked up with Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents to track emails sent by defense attorneys and Navy Times.
And the spying wasn’t the only allegation of prosecutorial and police misconduct dogging the case.
They were accused of manipulating witness statements to NCIS agents; using immunity grants and a bogus “target letter” in a crude attempt to keep pro-Gallagher witnesses from testifying; illegally leaking documents to the media to taint the military jury pool; and then trying to cover it all up when they got caught.
Larrea was Czaplak’s boss during the prosecution.
In a series of stunning moves on Thursday and Saturday, CNO Richardson dismissed all charges against Lt. Jacob X. “Jake” Portier — the officer in charge of Gallagher’s Alpha Platoon, SEAL Team 7 — for allegedly helping him cover up the crimes; removed all Navy Region Southwest oversight of Gallagher’s post-trial sentencing; and ordered Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Bob Burke to launch a comprehensive review of the conduct of JAG leaders in the wake of the war crimes cases.
As CNO’s push to probe the Navy’s legal institutions gathered steam, Gallagher’s civilian defense attorney, Timothy Parlatore, called on Pentagon leaders to fire Larrea, too.
On Monday, he said he was glad to hear she was gone, calling her RLSO “ruddlerless for more than a year." He urged Navy leaders to also relieve Czaplak of his duties at the RLSO.
But Navy spokesman Dorsey said that he’s “still assigned to RLSO performing duties assigned.”
Attempts by Navy Times to reach Capt. Larrea were unsuccessful on Monday.
Calls placed with her listed telephone numbers were not returned. Her RLSO staff referred Navy Times to the Office of the Judge Advocate General in Washington, who reached out to the Chief of Naval Information’s staff at the Pentagon.
Prine came to Navy Times after stints at the San Diego Union-Tribune and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors and the Combat Infantryman Badge.