Ex-commander may face charges related to Parris hazing

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

A former battalion commander at Parris Island could be headed to military court on charges including the failure to bench a drill instructor who was under investigation for allegations of hazing a Muslim recruit in 2015.

That drill instructor, Gunnery Sgt. Joseph A. Felix, faces a general court-martial on charges including maltreatment of 20-year-old Raheel Siddiqui of Taylor, a different Muslim recruit who fell to his death at the boot camp on March 18, 2016.

Lt. Col. Joshua Kissoon had been in charge of Siddiqui’s battalion – the 3rd Recruit Training Battalion – at the South Carolina training depot. Kissoon was relieved of his command on March 31, 2016, a week after Siddiqui’s death.

Marine Corps officials have said Kissoon was not fired in response to Siddiqui's death, noting that the decision to fire him was made March 17 – the day before Siddiqui died – in relation to prior allegations.

A probable cause hearing for Kissoon was held this past week in Quantico, Virginia. He is accused of violations of military code including failure to obey a lawful order, making a false official statement and conduct unbecoming an officer.

The Marines say he is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and that the charges being referred to the hearing were accusations only.

Among the witnesses to testify at the hearing was Col. Paul Cucinotta, the former commander of Parris Island's Recruit Training Regiment, which oversees the training battalions. Cucinotta was also relieved of duty last year.

The hearing also involved the questioning of seven other witnesses before the hearing officer, Col. William Brown, according to the Marines.

Brown will make a recommendation to Brigadier Gen. Kevin Iiams, the commanding general of the Marine Corps Training and Education Command, on whether to refer the charges to a court martial or some other venue. Iiams’ decision will be made public, though Brown’s will not.

Siddiqui died after falling three stories in a barracks stairwell last year following a standoff with Felix. A series of Marine Corps investigations has since found systemic hazing and abuse of recruits within the 3rd Recruit Training Battalion at Parris Island.

The Marines said Siddiqui committed suicide. His family has asked the county coroner in South Carolina to reconsider that finding after reviewing the military investigations and other information produced since his initial ruling on the cause of death.

Felix is scheduled to stand trial in military court in August on charges stemming from Siddiqui’s case, including cruelty and maltreatment, failure to obey orders, making false official statements, drunk and disorderly conduct and obstruction of justice.

At the time of Siddiqui’s death, Felix and other drill instructors in the 3rd Battalion were under investigation for involvement in a 2015 incident in which a recruit was allegedly placed into a clothes dryer and interrogated about his Islamic faith.

Colby Vokey, the attorney representing Kissoon, said that, typically, investigations into allegations of hazing or other misconduct would have been conducted at the battalion level and under Kissoon’s purview, but the probe into the dryer incident was not.

Vokey said hearing testimony included discussion about whose responsibility it was to ensure the accused drill instructors were assigned to nontraining duties.

“Kissoon and his staff were in the dark as to who was under investigation and for what,” Vokey said in an interview.

“The assignment of Gunnery Sergeant Felix was certainly indicative of extremely poor coordination and communication by the regiment.”

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