Report: Commodore Misled Investigators about Encounter with Sailor

In this photo from 2009, Cmdr. Anthony Simmons, commanding officer of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen greets Cameron R. Hume, U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia after Lassen arrives in Bali. (U.S. Navy photo/Seaman Charles Oki)
In this photo from 2009, Cmdr. Anthony Simmons, commanding officer of the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Lassen greets Cameron R. Hume, U.S. Ambassador to Indonesia after Lassen arrives in Bali. (U.S. Navy photo/Seaman Charles Oki)

It wasn't an encounter with a female junior enlisted sailor that led the Navy to strip a warship commodore of his command in August, it was his attempt to mislead investigators after being confronted about the incident.

According to a 40-page investigation received by The Virginian-Pilot through the Freedom of Information Act on Thursday, Capt. Anthony L. Simmons cast his visit to a Chesapeake Wild Wing Cafe as a 20-minute stop to pick up a take-out order during which he had a beer, spoke with the sailor and bought her and one other person a drink, all while his wife waited in the car.

But investigators found that Simmons entered the restaurant alone, dressed in civilian clothes around 6 p.m. Aug. 5 and went to the bar. His take-out food sat there for nearly an hour after he initiated conversation with the female sailor from a few seats away. As other patrons arrived at the restaurant, Simmons moved closer to her and attempted to buy her a drink.

Investigators describe an interaction that is occasionally marked by laughter from both parties but appeared to take an awkward turn at the end.

As he was preparing to leave the restaurant, Simmons wrote his phone number on a receipt for the woman and then went to the restroom. The woman went to an outside patio to avoid further interaction with him, investigators said.

She learned Simmons was a naval officer after she saw a photo of him in uniform on one of two phones he was carrying, the report said. An internet search later confirmed his identity and status as a captain. The woman filed a sexual harassment complaint Aug. 8, the report said.

Simmons told investigators in an Aug. 12 interview that he initiated the conversation by asking her if she was OK after he spotted her sitting alone and "staring off in the distance," the report said. She confided in him that she felt out of place in the Navy. He said he gave her a pep talk and bought her a drink. When he offered his phone number written on the receipt, the woman -- who told him she didn't have a cellphone -- at first refused. Simmons also told her "he was a Navy O-6 (captain) and didn't want to get into trouble by handing her his personal cell phone number," the report said. The woman took the number after Simmons told her he didn't want her to take his offer out of "context," sharing with her his concern that "taking it out of context could get me in trouble." The woman finally accepted and told him "he could trust her," the report said.

Simmons told investigators he detailed the interaction to his wife on the way home from the restaurant, telling her he "thought he saved someone," the report said. The couple discussed the interaction and how it might be perceived as a judgment lapse but that "he would do it exactly the same."

After interviewing Simmons, investigators confronted him with security camera footage from inside and outside the bar that showed a different story, including the amount of time he spent at the restaurant, the number of drinks he ordered and where he was sitting as the conversation with the sailor ensued. Navy investigators also found that Simmons' wife was not in the car. Security footage showed Simmons at the restaurant for about an hour and a half, according to the report.

Simmons "also admitted that the morning of the interview that he had asked himself, 'how much of the story should I tell?'," the report said.

Download PDF Carrier Strike Group 12 investigation into Capt. Anthony Simmons

Rear Adm. Roy Kelley, former commander of Carrier Strike Group 12, relieved Simmons of his command Aug. 24, citing loss of confidence in his ability to lead resulting from his failure to follow the exemplary conduct expected of commanders. Simmons received a punitive letter of reprimand and was found guilty of making false statements and conduct unbecoming following an admiral's mast Aug. 31, Naval Surface Force Atlantic spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Myers Vasquez said Thursday.

Simmons was cleared of sexual harassment allegations. A preliminary investigation completed by Carrier Strike Group 12 also recommended he face a hearing to show cause for continuing his naval service, which Kelley disagreed with.

Simmons took command of the destroyer squadron, which includes the USS Mitscher, USS Winston S. Churchill and USS Forrest Sherman, in March. He was replaced by Capt. Erik Eslich, the Navy has said. Simmons was reassigned to Naval Surface Force Atlantic.

Simmons declined to discuss the report when reached Thursday but said he's a "natural leader" with 26 years of mentoring sailors "and that's what I'm going to continue to do."

The woman, who was not identified in the report, was not attached to any ships under Simmons' command, Vasquez said.

Simmons was commissioned in 1990, according to a Navy biography. He briefly commanded the guided missile destroyer USS James E. Williams in 2014 after leading an investigation into incidents aboard the warship.

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