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Investigation reveals creepy details behind Marine colonel's firing

Jul. 21, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Col. Tracy J. Tafolla
Col. Tracy J. Tafolla ()
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An investigation into last year’s firing of a senior Marine Corps officer reveals that at least six female subordinates told authorities he had touched them inappropriately or made lewd comments to them.

Col. Tracy Tafolla, 48, was removed as commander of the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate in Quantico, Va., in May 2013. The command investigation, released to Marine Corps Times through a Freedom of Information Act request, contains pages of testimony transcript from female witnesses who described Tafolla’s behavior as “red zone” on the Navy’s “stoplight” chart for workplace behavior, and recalled going to extreme lengths to avoid being left alone with him.

Despite the investigation’s damning revelations, Marine officials said Tafolla remains on active duty.

Interviewed for 30 minutes about the allegations, Tafolla could not refute any of the reports or provide any mitigating context for his alleged actions, the investigation found. He did not respond to a request for comment on the investigation and its findings.

His alleged misbehavior grew so pervasive that one employee testified it was “almost like a joke of the directorate.”

The investigation describes lurid accounts of misbehavior. The investigating officers interviewed a total of five employees of the directorate, three female and two male, who reported the following:

■ Tafolla allegedly noticed a female employee carrying a Victoria’s Secret umbrella and said, “you know that makes everyone wonder what’s underneath.”

■ He allegedly told a co-worker that they should travel together, but that his wife wouldn’t like him traveling with such a “hot young thing.”

■ Tafolla allegedly was fond of approaching one woman from behind and giving her shoulder massages of a minute or more, usually when her office-mate was not nearby.

■ He allegedly would approach one subordinate while she was talking to a co-worker, putting his arm around her and announcing to the office “how do you like my hot new girlfriend?”

■ One member of the directorate said a female coworker reported to him that Tafolla allegedly told her “if only I were 15 years younger.”

■ A woman said she was once offended when Tafolla allegedly pulled her onto his lap while at a unit social function. She later heard rumors that she “gave the colonel a lap dance.”

■ Tafolla allegedly would engage in unwelcome “rubbing of the shoulders” and “knee touching,” touching one woman on the knee repeatedly under the table during a meeting.

■ Ultimately, one woman asked her office-mate to make sure she was never alone with Tafolla.

The accusations came to light in March 2013, when an anonymous email was sent to a Quantico hotline listing six female employees of the directorate, some contractors and some Navy civilian employees, who had been subjected to Tafolla’s alleged behavior. The employees “do not feel comfortable being alone with him and are in fear of their careers if they say anything to him,” the email said, according to the investigation.

According to the investigation, the witnesses acknowledged that they should have reported the behavior sooner — one said the alleged harassment had been going on for her since 2010 — but offered various reasons for not coming forward: fear of losing a job, wishing to avoid jeopardizing Tafolla’s career, worry about getting a “label” in the office.

“I’m one that usually speaks up very confidently,” said one female witness. “But in this situation ... I didn’t have the guts to do it. Because it’s someone I respect, it’s my boss’s boss’s boss. The director of our organization ... just didn’t feel comfortable.”

After he was relieved of command, Tafolla was transferred within Quantico to a position at Marine Corps Systems Command, officials said. A spokesman for Marine Corps Installations Command, Rex Runyon, said Tafolla faces no legal actions.

Another Marine official confirmed that Tafolla did, however, receive nonjudicial punishment as a result of the accusations. Since NJP proceedings are not open to the public, the official could not release the details of the punishment.

It’s also possible that he could face further administrative action at some point, including a board of inquiry hearing that might determine his fitness to remain in the Marine Corps.

The directorate oversees development, testing and evaluation of non-lethal technologies across the Defense Department. These technologies range from flash-bang grenades and pepper spray dispensers to futuristic weapons including the “heat ray” active denial system now in development.

Marine Col. Michael Coolican succeeded Tafolla as commander of the directorate last December.

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