IG Rebukes Top Navy Officer After Aide's 'Bad Santa' Groping Scandal

Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, was too slow to respond to allegations of sexual harassment against one of his aides, but his lack of action fell short of misconduct, the Pentagon's watchdog agency concluded in a report Friday.

Richardson's failure to remove his top public affairs officer from his staff until four months after the 2016 incident was reported "sent the wrong message about how seriously Adm. Richardson took the allegations of sexual harassment," the Defense Department Inspector General’s report said.

"Adm. Richardson acknowledged that he should have acted more expeditiously. We agree," the report continued. "We concluded that the re-assignment could have, and should have, been done closer in time to Adm. Richardson's decision to take administrative action to address the allegations against the PAO."

However, the IG's report cleared Richardson of misconduct and appeared to put an end to any possibility of repercussions for him from the incident. The IG's investigation was conducted at the request of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York.

The officer, Cmdr. Christopher Servello, never formally faced charges on the allegations of sexual harassment, and he ultimately was subject only to administrative action.

The investigation stemmed from a boozy Dec. 14, 2016, Christmas party at the Pentagon during which Servello dressed as Santa Claus and allegedly sexually harassed three female sailors. The incident quickly became known around the Pentagon as the "Bad Santa" party.

Servello allegedly slapped one woman on the buttocks, gave another "two uncomfortably long hugs," and called and texted a third woman shortly after the party, according to the IG's investigation.

In his response to the IG's report, Richardson said, "I decided that we would write [Servello] an adverse [fitness report], essentially ending his career as an upwardly mobile public affairs officer, and that he would have to be removed from the staff."

However, putting his decision into effect "is where it kind of got, you know, bogged down, I guess is the best way to put it," he told the inspector general's office. "And so I think that, for lack of any better way, the mechanics just got really screwed up in terms of executing the decision, and so that took far longer than it should have."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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