While the Naval Criminal Investigative Service’s inquiry into the death of a former Marine Corps recruit has concluded, a second NCIS investigation of a Marine linked to that incident is ongoing.
The news comes a day after a congresswoman asked the Beaufort County coroner to change the classification of that recruit’s death.
One NCIS investigation — that of the death of Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island trainee Raheel Siddiqui — concluded April 13, NCIS spokesman Ed Buice said late Wednesday afternoon.
The results of that investigation were presented to Parris Island’s Recruit Training Regiment shortly thereafter, Buice said, and “the case was closed” when the Corps decided not to bring charges based on its findings. Buice said he “misspoke” earlier Wednesday when he told The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette that investigation had been presented to the Corps’ Training and Education Command — known as TECOM — and that TECOM had decided not to bring any charges.
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In fact, TECOM spokesperson Capt. Joshua Pena said NCIS findings — from what Buice said is a separate investigation — have led to charges against two Marines and “adverse administrative actions against others.”
That NCIS investigation involves Gunnery Sgt. Joseph A. Felix, a former Parris Island drill instructor set to stand trial in military court for his alleged involvement in Siddiqui’s death.
Siddiqui, a 20-year-old Muslim American of Pakistani descent from Taylor, Mich., died from injuries sustained after a three-story fall at the depot on March 18, 2016. Shortly before that fall, he was reportedly disciplined and slapped in the face by a drill instructor. And at some point before his death, he was allegedly called a “terrorist” by that drill instructor.
TECOM has previously announced charges against multiple Marines — six of whom face courts-martial — stemming from several investigations that have been linked in the wake of Siddiqui’s death.
In March 2016, shortly after Siddiqui’s death, NCIS said it did not suspect foul play in the incident.
When asked if the agency stood by that assessment, Buice said Wednesday: “The statement at that time is correct, but that was at the start of the (Siddiqui) investigation. But the final decision on whether or not that’s the case rests with the command, but I have no reason to believe our statement, at that time, wasn’t correct.”
News of the NCIS investigations comes after U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., wrote a letter Tuesday to Beaufort County Coroner Ed Allen and Medical University of South Carolina physician Dr. Lee Marie Tormos asking them to change the status of Siddiqui’s death from suicide to “pending” or “undetermined.”
“The original finding of suicide made by your offices was based on facts immediately available after the death,” Dingell wrote. “Since then, new information has come to light about the circumstances surrounding his death. The Marine Corps Command Investigation states that ‘several factors contributed to (Private Siddiqui’s) death, including maltreatment by his drill instructor team, leadership failures at multiple levels of command, and administrative and process failures, that if avoided, could have reduced the risk of his death.’
“The report goes into further detail about the physical abuse Private Siddiqui faced, including being slapped in the face moments before his death,” she continued. “While we will never know what happened, I am convinced he did not intend to kill himself that day, which is the definition of suicide.”
Allen said Wednesday morning he’d not yet received a hard or electronic copy of Dingell’s letter. But he responded to the document when it was shared with him by The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette.
“(O)ut of due respect to (Dingell),” Allen said, “what she’s mentioning about additional information, I have no knowledge of that. ... Our decision is what it is, based on the information that was provided to us (at the time).”
“We have reviewed what was presented to us,” he continued, “and right now it remains (a suicide) until we can get anything that indicates otherwise.”
When asked to elaborate on specific factors that influenced the decision to rule Siddiqui’s death a suicide, Allen declined to comment.
A spokesperson for MUSC who said she’d reached Tormos on Wednesday morning said Tormos “explained (Allen) is the appropriate person to contact” with questions.
Allen said his office has been contacted before by Siddiqui family attorney Shiraz Khan, who’s also requested Allen change the classification of the former trainee’s death.
In a statement late Tuesday night, Khan wrote that he’d contacted Allen and MUSC on April 14.
Khan noted several reasons for requesting the change, namely “the release of several enclosures” of a Marine Corps command investigation of Siddiqui’s death, and medical evidence in possession of the Corps, NCIS and his own office.
The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette asked Khan for details about the enclosures and medical evidence, but he declined to comment because of “pending legal and administrative processes.”
“To date, neither Raheel Siddiqui’s family nor my office has been notified of any updates or changes in the status of the NCIS Investigation,” its findings and timeline, Khan wrote in an email to the newspapers. “We are waiting to hear from NCIS officials at the earliest, and are eager to comprehensively review their findings.”
NCIS investigations are standard after a death, Buice said. Their purpose is to discover whether any “criminal causality” might exist. But he reiterated that it’s a command’s decision to make that final determination.
When asked if NCIS had made any determinations about the classification of Siddiqui’s death — meaning suicide or otherwise — Buice said it’s the job of an armed forces medical examiner to determine “cause and manner.”
But Buice said there was nothing in his agency’s investigation of Siddiqui’s death to indicate a change in the way the recruit is reported to have died.
“He propelled himself” off the third story, Buice said.
Felix’s general court-martial — the highest-level of military trial — is scheduled for Aug. 7-25 at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.
He is accused of violations of military code ranging from cruelty and maltreatment to obstruction of justice.
He is also alleged to have been involved in a previous incident involving a separate Muslim recruit who was reportedly ordered into a commercial clothes dryer and questioned about his faith and loyalty.
When asked what NCIS’ investigation of Felix found, Buice said he couldn’t comment because the case is ongoing.