Jeremiah Sullivan.jpg

Jeremiah Sullivan, the civilian attorney for Navy SEAL Lt. Jacob Portier, talks to the press after an arraignment at Naval Base San Diego in January.
Andrew Dyer / Union-Tribune

Prosecutors dropped two counts of making false official statements Thursday against a Navy SEAL platoon commander charged in connection with alleged war crimes

Defense attorneys for a Navy SEAL platoon commander charged with failing to report war crimes and with conduct unbecoming an officer called the government’s decision to drop two counts of making false official statements a “grand slam” for their case on Thursday.

Navy prosecutors say that during a 2017 Iraq deployment, Navy SEAL Lt. Jacob X. Portier failed to act on reports that one of his men, Chief Special Operator Edward Gallagher, had allegedly killed a wounded ISIS fighter who was brought to him for medical treatment. They also said that Portier violated regulations when he conducted a reenlistment ceremony for Gallagher next to the fighter’s corpse.

“The government has conceded and dismissed the charges (of making false official statements) because my client has been truthful and will continue to be truthful,” said Jeremiah Sullivan, Portier’s civilian attorney, during an interview after the hearing.

The dropped charges alleged that Portier had lied to superiors about his subordinates reporting allegations against Gallagher, who has been charged in another court martial with premeditated murder and with shooting civilians. Gallagher has pleaded not guilty.

Sullivan said the Navy only charged Portier with crimes to compel him to testify in Gallagher’s trial, but Portier was not present when the fighter was killed.

“He just doesn’t have the evidence they’re looking for,” Sullivan said.

Portier still faces charges of conduct unbecoming an officer, willful dereliction of duty, failure to obey a lawful general order and obstruction of justice.

The conduct unbecoming charge is tied to a battlefield reenlistment ceremony Portier conducted for Gallagher next to the body of the dead fighter. Charges against Gallagher related to the reenlistment were dropped in February, so Portier’s defense argued his charge should be dropped as well.

However, prosecutors argued Thursday that the conduct unbecoming charge was different than the charge that was dismissed in Gallagher’s case. Portier, who was a superior officer, conducted the ceremony.

Navy Judge Capt. Jonathan Stephens did not rule on the motion Thursday.

Stephens did rule on another motion, one the prosecution filed to dismiss the attorney who was representing three witnesses in the case.

Brian Ferguson, a Texas-based attorney who briefly represented Portier in the early stages of the investigation, now represents three witnesses who could testify against Portier, something prosecutors said is a conflict of interest.

Stephens ruled against the motion, saying the accused was aware of the potential conflict and was not concerned.

Navy prosecutor Chris Czaplak said he had filed the motion out of concern for Portier’s right to counsel.

The court martial will continue on an undetermined date, because witnesses are being deployed and because there is a greater priority to continue the Gallagher prosecution. Gallagher’s trial is scheduled to begin May 28; no date has been set for Portier’s.

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