Navy report: ‘Errors’ at gate led to USS Mahan shooting

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The Navy says errors at the gate to Naval Station Norfolk were the “predominant contributing factors” in last year’s deadly shooting aboard the USS Mahan.

Tuesday evening, the Navy released its investigative report into the tragic incident that took the life of locally based sailor, Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Petty Officer Mark A. Mayo.

In just the first few lines of her endorsement of the report, Adm. Michelle Howard, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, stated the shooter passed “unchecked through layers of security that were intended to protect the installation, the ships and the people.”

Document: Navy’s full investigative report

The shooting happened Monday, March 24, 2014 around 11:30 p.m. while the ship was docked at Pier 1.

The report, compiled by Rear Adm. Jeffrey Harley, details civilian Jeffrey Savage being waved onto the base, slipping past pier security and boarding the USS Mahan. It describes how he ignored commands to stop from security personnel, looked through storage lockers, told Mahan watch standers he “just wanted to talk,” then got in a struggle with the female petty officer on watch.

Mayo was working as chief of the guard for Naval Station Norfolk and responded to a report of an unauthorized person on the pier. The Navy report says Mayo followed Savage onto the ship, then lunged between the petty officer and Savage, just as Savage wrestled her firearm away from her.

The report says Mayo shielded the petty officer from Savage’s gunfire, was shot multiple times and killed. Savage was then shot by Mahan watch standers and died at the scene.

The investigation was unable to determine the shooter’s motive and intention.

“This event underscores the importance of … compliance with processes that were created to keep our bases secure,” Howard said in a Navy press release.

Complete Coverage: USS Mahan Shooting

The report released Tuesday names the following errors by Navy civilian police officers manning Gate 5 that night:

  • They did not get Savage’s identification or ask for his authorization to enter the base
  • They did not make sure Savage made a U-turn at the gate and left the base
  • They did not activate barriers that would keep Savage from entering the base
  • They did not chase after Savage quickly enough when he got through the gate
  • They did not notify Naval Station security of the intruder
  • They did not follow any of the base’s standard procedures for an unauthorized entry onto Naval Station Norfolk

There were five sentries on duty at the gate at the time of the shooting and all were put on administrative duty, which the Navy calls being red-tagged. According to a Navy spokesperson, one of those sentries was red-tagged for a week, two were red-tagged for two months, and a fourth was red-tagged for four months.

The fifth sentry was the Officer-in-Charge and was the one who knowingly waved Savage through Gate 5 without proper identification, according to the Navy. He remains red-tagged and is not allowed to carry a weapon.

“As the suspect drove through Gate 5, the civilian police officer … thought the suspect was going to execute a U-turn,” the Navy report stated. “[He] watched the cab as it failed to execute the expected U-turn and continued onto the base … [he] did not initiate ‘gate runner’ procedures … continued his duties of checking identification of cars coming onto the base… ”

The investigation, in part, blamed a low pay grade for the lack of “capability and professionalism” in the civilian officers, and cited manpower shortages as a negative influence on base security supervision. The report mentioned sequestration, furloughs and a hiring freeze as other contributing factors.

The Navy spokesperson said those held responsible could face further disciplinary action.

Document: Navy’s complete list of corrective actions

While the Navy was investigating the incident, they identified a number of other shortcomings — both by individuals and by the institution — that needed to be fixed. So along with the report, the Navy released a list of corrective actions that have been implemented.

One of those corrective actions involved more screening for those granted the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC). The Department of Homeland Security issues TWIC cards to civilian delivery drivers in order for them to get on base. Savage was a professional truck driver and had a TWIC card.

“I am satisfied that the corrective actions underway are sufficient to improve our physical security posture. However, security is guaranteed only when resources are coupled with leadership oversight and diligent watch-standers,” Howard said in the Navy release.

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