Alize Acevedo thought she was doing a good deed last year when she helped a fellow sailor who was badly intoxicated during a San Diego shore leave.
But that good deed did not go unpunished. And seven months after leaving the Navy, Acevedo is still the target of online harassment thanks to an erroneous Navy news story about the incident.
In a story about a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal she received in November for helping that sailor, the Navy wrote that Acevedo received the medal for “turning over a Sailor who was underage drinking.” The story quoted her as saying, “I felt great knowing that I helped my command, and hopefully the Sailor, by turning them over to the authorities...I loved the fact that I received an award that will help me promote for it.”
Those parts of the story, however, were untrue, the Navy admitted Tuesday after receiving a message about the issue last week from Navy Times.
Acevedo, at the time an air traffic controller 3rd class, did not know the sailor’s age. Nor did she say what she was quoted as saying and was planning to leave the Navy at the time, so a promotion would not have been on her mind. She only found out that the Navy story said she turned in an underage drunken sailor after she began receiving harassing social media messages accusing of her being a “snitch” and much worse, she told Navy Times.
Another version of the story, posted on DVIDS, the military’s news and visual information website, did not contain the erroneous information, instead spelling out Acevedo’s accurate depiction of events.
Acevedo was on liberty in the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego “when she came upon a fellow Sailor in need of assistance,” the DVIDS article stated. “I could tell he was having a bad night, and getting him back to his ship was the first thing that came to mind,” said Acevedo. “I just kind of jumped into ‘Sailor mode’ I guess. We have ‘honor, courage and commitment’ instilled in us, and that’s what kicked in when I saw him. I’m honored to be recognized in this way, for simply doing what we’ve been trained to do.”
Though DVIDS had the correct version, the damage was done.
“The article was posted on the America’s Navy website with quotes I did not say,” Acevedo told Navy Times. “By the time I woke up I was already bombarded by messages & screenshots from random people and even people I knew.”
Acevedo said she then messaged the author almost immediately but he had “no idea what was going on and actually notified me that the article on DVIDS was nothing like the article that was posted.”
The Navy removed the original story from its website with no explanation or admission of error.
However, the original article still exists on the internet and is being passed around, garnering more nasty messages to Acevedo. Another possible factor in continuing interest is that the NAM was presented by Capt. Rich LeBron, commanding officer of the amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard. Intense public interest in the ship due to a devastating fire last month may have led to online searches that turned up the erroneous story, Navy officials surmise. So, too, did a YouTube video that initially lambastes Acevedo, but segues into how the Navy was to blame for hanging her out to dry.
“i have people send me articles and i follow a large amount of veteran/military accounts,” said “Angry Cops,” the psuedonym behind the “Angry Drill Sergeant” YouTube personality, in a Facebook message to Navy Times. “It was originally going to be a roast of the sailor until i looked further into the story and discovered she had been misrepresented.”
Despite that, the harassment continues, said Acevedo, 22, who separated from the Navy in December after three years in uniform.
“I just still deal with random messages from people swearing at me, calling me names, posts from huge accounts that people just comment on and bash my name,” she said. “Some of the same accounts actually try to help me out after I reached out to them and explained the truth and send in screenshots and stuff, but by then the damage was already done. "
Even as she was communicating last week with Navy Times about the problems, Acevedo said another message popped up.
“yo snitching ass,” came the message delivered via Facebook messenger.
“Yeah some serious serious backlash,” she said in an email to Navy Times last week, when asked about the ongoing repercussions of the erroneous story. “No, nobody was punished, nobody even apologized.”
The Navy on Tuesday said it has corrected the story.
“A story containing inaccurate statements and quotes attributed to a San Diego Sailor was published on official Navy websites and replaced without adding a record correction,” said Lt. Cmdr. Nicole Schwegman, a spokeswoman with Naval Surface Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet, in an email to Navy Times. “Commander, Naval Surface Forces Pacific public affairs is posting a correction to the story to reflect a change to the record.”
The story “was written by a sailor, and they made up placeholder quotes, and that draft story was accidently sent,” said Schwegman. “The Navy takes the dissemination of inaccurate information very seriously and is constantly reviewing processes to improve the accuracy of our communications.”
“Commander, Naval Surface Forces Pacific Public Affairs intends to reach out to the Sailor, intends to reach out to Acevedo, separately,” Schwegman said.
Acevedo said while she is glad the record is being corrected, she is not happy it has taken so long.
“It’s the least they can do,” she said. “Like I said the damage is done, but I do appreciate them clarifying the whole thing and putting the truth out.”
Howard Altman is an award-winning editor and reporter who was previously the military reporter for the Tampa Bay Times and before that the Tampa Tribune, where he covered USCENTCOM, USSOCOM and SOF writ large among many other topics.