Calif. Guard Tries to Serve Firing Papers to Member After Suicide Attempt

The California National Guard sends termination paperwork to Guard member in hospital hours after third suicide attempt

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Those close to MSgt. Jessica Brown believe the California National Guard’s decision to serve her termination paperwork in the hospital is retaliation for helping expose what some call a toxic culture inside the Guard. Tony Kovaleski continues the investigation Behind the Gates of the Guard in a story that aired on June 25, 2013.

    The California National Guard tried to serve termination papers to one of its members in the hospital just hours after a suicide attempt last month, the Investigative Unit has learned.

    Those close to Jessica Brown, a master sergeant with Moffett Field’s 129th Rescue Wing, say they believe the move is retaliation for exposing what has been described as a toxic culture inside the Guard. Last November in front of NBC Bay Area cameras, Brown criticized her leaders for failing to properly handle a sexual assault she says happened to her while on duty in Las Vegas.

    “To me, it felt like it would be better if I was dead,” Brown said in the November interview. “I didn’t want to do it, but I couldn’t handle it anymore. I wasn’t sleeping again, and when I did sleep the nightmares were so bad.”

    Last month she was rushed to the emergency room at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View after she tried to take her life for the third time. Hours earlier she left a note. She wrote in part, “my leadership obviously wants me to die” and “my pain is ending.”

    “They are damaging her,” said Brown’s mother Seonhee Truong. “They are trying to kill her bringing those papers to her to sign.”

    Within hours of learning about Brown’s third suicide attempt—instead of sending support—the Investigative Unit confirmed that the California National Guard sent a process server to Brown’s hospital room to deliver firing papers.

    “That is not a human thing to do,” Troung said.

    Ben Banchs, a representative of the Guard's largest union—the National Guard District Council of the Laborers' International Union of North America—calls the move disgusting.

    “Outrageous is probably putting it lightly,” he said. “They don’t care about their people. They would rather get rid of people they perceive to be problems within the organization.”

    Both Banchs and Troung believe Brown’s decision to speak to NBC Bay Area contributed to the Guard’s decision to serve her termination papers in the hospital. Banchs called it blatant retaliation.

    “I couldn’t be more sure of it,” Banchs said. “It’s cultural. Anytime anyone steps out of ranks, the organization turns their back on them.”

    Brown’s commander at the 129th Rescue Wing, Col. Steven Butow, said the Guard hired a process service to deliver papers to Brown because she refused to come in and sign the paperwork.

    “The member has been uncooperative despite all the care,” Butow said. “The decision is really one of an administrative nature. We can’t have someone on a paid status and not have accountability for their whereabouts or their status.”

    But a letter written by Jessica’s psychiatrist obtained exclusively by the Investigative Unit raises more concerns about the Guard’s attempt to serve Brown in the emergency room.

    In the letter, Dr. Sterling Nakamura wrote “I am disappointed that despite my previous doctor’s order of no contact, your personnel were still harassing her and disrupting her treatment.” Nakamura also wrote that “the harassment was a factor to her third suicide attempt.”

    Butow said he has never had to deal with a situation like Brown’s in the history of his unit. When pressed about the appropriateness of the decision to contact Brown in the emergency room he said “it was the appropriate decision given MSgt. Brown’s uncooperative behavior” and denied it was retaliation.

    “I thought this Air National Guard was helping her,” Troung said. “It’s the opposite of help. Right now they are destroying her.”

    Hospital staff prevented the process server from entering the emergency room and serving Brown the termination papers. The Investigative Unit has confirmed that days after leaving the hospital, Brown was served the firing packet from the Guard. The Guard discharged Brown for failing to report a myriad of medical issues that were potentially disqualifying for military service and for not taking her required fitness test. 

    Her last day as a member of the California Guard was May 22, though Brown has the right to appeal her termination.

    Click here to watch the original investigation, "Behind the Gates of the Guard."

    If you have a tip for the Investigative Unit email theunit@nbcbayarea.com or call 888-996-TIPS.