The Navy’s top officer did not remove his spokesman fast enough following allegations the staffer made inappropriate sexual advances and slapped an employee's bottom while dressed as Santa Claus at a service Christmas party, the Pentagon inspector general said Friday.
Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, allowed his spokesman Cmdr. Chris Servello to remain in his position for four months after he decided the officer should be removed following the 2016 allegations, which Navy investigators dubbed the “Bad Santa incident,” according to the IG.
“We considered Adm. Richardson’s failure to ensure that the personal staff officer was removed from his position and reassigned in a timely way to be a performance issue, and that his actions or inaction did not violate any applicable standards in effect at the time, and did not constitute misconduct,” the IG said in a statement with the newly released report.
Richardson said Friday that he appreciated the IG's scrutiny of the incident and that it has led to policy changes.
"I learned a great deal from the experience. In particular, I should have moved more quickly to bring matters to a close and to avoid any unintended messaging to the Navy and especially to survivors. I've made changes to Navy policy so that in the future, senior leaders will benefit from these lessons," Richardson said in a statement.
In a statement released at the same time, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer lept to the admiral's defense, saying he has done an "outstanding job" as the service's top uniformed officer.
"I'm completely confident in his abilities and know that he will continue to fight every day for a more lethal force. We have reviewed and discussed his actions in this chain of events. What he has learned from this experience he will pass on to the next generation of leaders, making the Navy even stronger," Spencer said.
Servello received complaints that during the Christmas party at the Navy’s public affairs office two years ago he had slapped an employee on the butt, gave a junior Navy officer two “uncomfortably long” hugs, and also called and texted another junior officer eight times in a 40-minute period asking if she wanted company after the party.
The Navy investigated and Richardson eventually settled on an administrative punishment including removal from the top public affairs job, an adverse military fitness report, and a nonpunitive letter of caution in his record.
“However, the removal and reassignment did not occur for 4 months, and the [public affairs officer] remained in his position during this time, providing public affairs support to” Richardson, the IG report found.