Friday, April 9, 1999

Submariner fights
dishonorable discharge

By Gregg K. Kakesako


A 13-year Navy veteran believes he is being forced out of the service based on the results of a possibly flawed drug test.

Petty Officer Thomas L. Gunter, 34, is asking the Navy to reconsider its decision to discharge him later this month. He says medication prescribed by a Tripler Army Medical Center doctor caused him to test positive for methamphetamines, and he has appealed to his Arkansas congressional delegation for help.

But Senior Chief Petty Officer Darrell Ames, Pearl Harbor Submarine Base spokesman, said "the Navy is convinced that he did drugs" and has rejected his defense that prescribed medication could have triggered false test results.

Gunter, who has been a submariner for 13 years, said he was diagnosed as having hepatitis C early last year and was prescribed the medication interpheron alphacon one and fluoxetine (better known as Prozac) by Tripler in July.

Gunter, a Navy quartermaster, is now assigned to the Naval Submarine Training Center.

On Nov. 25, Gunter took a routine drug urinalysis test. A month later, he was told that he flunked the test and was given the choice of going before a captain's mast, a nonjudicial administrative hearing, or facing court-martial.

Gunter said he chose a captain's mast based on the advice of a Navy lawyer who told him that he thought the case would be dismissed, because Gunter had proof that the test results could have been caused by fluoxetine.

At a Jan. 8 captain's mast, Gunter was found guilty of being a drug abuser and demoted one rank. Under the Navy's "zero tolerance" policy, Gunter knew he would be forced to face a separation board and discharged from the service.

Gunter said the Navy based its decision on the findings of Charles Kazarian, director of screening at the Navy Drug Screening Laboratory in Great Lakes, Ill.

Gunter said he wanted forensic chemist Dr. Mark Hagadone, operator of Inalab Lab here, to testify at his separation administrative board hearing last month, but the Navy wouldn't accommodate Hagadone's schedule. The Navy maintains that Gunter had more than a month to prepare.

So Gunter said he was only able to present Hagadone's written findings, which were rejected by the Navy board on March 3, and that his last day with the Navy was supposed to be April 12. He said eight people also testified in his favor at the hearing.

In rejecting his appeal on Feb. 25, Rear Adm. J. Townes, commander of the Pearl Harbor Naval Base, said Gunter also failed a polygraph test on Feb. 19. "While the results of a polygraph examination would not be admissible at a court-martial or other type of trial in the federal system, I was prepared to give you the benefit of the doubt and set aside your mast findings and punishment had you passed the polygraph."

Gunter, who maintains he doesn't use illegal drugs, said he requested the lie detector test because he thought it would have cleared him. On Monday, Gunter said submarine personnel officials told him that his case was placed on hold and he hasn't been able to get any information since then.

Ames said the submarine base is still waiting for word from the Navy Bureau of Personnel when to discharge Gunter. He will given an "other than honorable discharge."

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