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Advocacy group: Navy stops discharge of sailor in sleepover

By the CNN Wire Staff
Petty Officer Stephen Jones has said that the Navy was trying to discharge him because command suspects he is gay.
Petty Officer Stephen Jones has said that the Navy was trying to discharge him because command suspects he is gay.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Petty Officer Stephen Jones dozed off beside another male sailor while watching TV
  • The Navy had sought to discharge him for "unprofessional conduct"
  • A gay troops advocacy group calls charge an end run around "don't ask, don't tell" repeal

(CNN) -- The Navy has halted discharge proceedings against a sailor who was found asleep in the same bed with another male sailor, according to a announcement Friday by Servicemembers United, the nation's largest organization of gay and lesbian troops and veterans.

Petty Officer Stephen Jones, who is stationed at the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command in Charleston, South Carolina, has said that the Navy's effort to discharge him for "unprofessional conduct" was a trumped-up charge based on the command's suspicion that he might be gay.

Jones also said the nonjudicial punishment for unprofessional conduct was a maneuver around the "don't ask, don't tell" repeal that President Obama signed into law in December.

When contacted by CNN, Navy officials didn't have an immediate comment.

Alexander Nicholson, executive director of Servicemembers United, said the Navy "undoubtedly did the right thing in reversing its decision," made in March, to discharge Jones, who dozed off beside another male sailor while watching television on February 5.

In a recent interview with CNN, Jones, a student at the Nuclear Power Training Command, said another male sailor stopped by that night and they both inadvertently fell asleep on Jones' bed while they watched the CW TV show "Vampire Diaries."

"We strongly suspected that his command was trying to find a roundabout way to discharge Jones because it suspected him of being gay, and we simply were not willing to stand by and watch a new version of 'don't ask, don't tell' emerge under the new label of 'unprofessional conduct,' " Nicholson said in a statement.

Jones hired civilian attorney Gary Myers, a former JAG officer who is one of the most experienced civilian military defense attorneys in the country, to fight his discharge, and Servicemembers United worked closely with Jones and Myers to help publicize the case and persuade Navy leaders to retain Jones, according to the Servicemembers United statement.

In the CNN interview, Jones, 21, said the other sailor had "come over to watch shows in the past."

His roommate walked in around midnight, Jones said.

"My roommate walked in and it woke me up," Jones said. He then woke up his friend, Navy Petty Officer Bryan McGee, who, according to Jones, immediately left the room.

The Navy had sought to discharge Jones under charges of "willful failure to exhibit professional conduct," Myers told CNN in a recent interview.

"It is a violation of the Command Instruction for sailors to act unprofessionally in the barracks. It is considered unprofessional conduct to share the same bed in Navy barracks," Thomas Dougan, a spokesman for the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command, said in an interview published in March.

The Navy has denied the separation proceedings are based on the suspicion of homosexual behavior.

"Naval Nuclear Power Training Command is not administratively processing either of these sailors for separation based on sexual orientation," Dougan said.

Jones, who says nothing sexual happened, said that they were both clothed -- him in pajama pants and a white T-shirt and McGee in boxers -- and that they were not under the covers together. Jones was lying above the covers, while McGee was below them.

The play-by-play given by Jones is substantiated by the naval investigating documents, although a different account of the amount of clothing worn was given by Jones' roommate, who said in his naval statement that both sailors were dressed only in their boxers.

Jones' roommate, who was made uncomfortable by what he saw, moved out of the room a day later and reported the incident to command officials, Myers said.

An investigation was launched, ending with the Command attempting to punish Jones and McGee by a captain's mast, a nonjudicial procedure meant to avoid a court martial.

McGee, who declined to comment on the case, accepted the mast and punishment, but Jones refused, moving the Navy to begin proceedings to discharge him.

Punishment by captain's mast could have resulted in loss of rank or forfeiture of pay, or it could have jeopardized Jones' top secret security clearance, Myers said.

"I'm not pleading guilty to something that I didn't do. I did not commit a crime," Jones said in a recent interview. "I am the type of person that takes responsibility for my actions. If I break a rule, I take my punishment. And I know I did not break any rules."

Jones said he wants to become a nuclear operator on an aircraft carrier or a submarine.

CNN's Adam Levine and Michael Martinez contributed to this report.