United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division
TIMOTHY J. CORRIGAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
apparent issue of first impression, the Court must determine
whether a high-ranking Navy officer's noncustodial,
unwarned statements to two superior officers were involuntary
solely because of the “subtle pressure” to
respond to orders inherent in military command relationships.
case is before the Court on Defendant John Nettleton's
Motion to Suppress (Doc. 33) and the Government's
response (Doc. 43). On September 18, 2019, the Court held a
hearing on this motion, the record of which is incorporated
John R. Nettleton (Ret.) faces a ten-count indictment
following the investigation of the suspicious death of a
civilian Navy employee, Christopher Tur, at Naval Station
Guantanamo Bay, in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (Doc. 1). In January
2015, Nettleton was the Commanding Officer of Guantanamo and
had been since June 2012. Id. ¶ 1. He reported
to Admiral M.J., the Commander of Navy Region Southeast based
in Jacksonville, Florida, and her chief of staff Captain C.G.
Id. ¶ 3. Tur worked as a civilian employee for
the Navy and lived on Guantanamo with his wife (who was also
a Navy civilian employee) and their two children.
Id. ¶ 4.
evening of January 9, 2015, there was a hail and farewell in
the basement of the Guantanamo officer's club, called the
Bayview, to greet the incoming Executive Officer
(“XO”), A.R., and say goodbye to the outgoing XO.
Id. ¶ 16. Nettleton, Tur, and Tur's wife
all attended the hail and farewell, and each were seen
consuming several alcoholic drinks. Id. ¶ 17.
Around 10:00 p.m. outside of the Bayview, Tur began yelling
at his spouse and Nettleton, accusing them of having an
affair. Id. ¶ 18. At the urging of his new XO,
Nettleton left the Bayview and proceeded toward his
between 10:30 and 10:45 p.m. that evening, Tur called a
civilian resident of Guantanamo, K.W., and told her “he
was ‘at the Skipper's house' and that he had
‘just knocked the Skipper out.' K.W. also heard
[Nettleton] stating words to the effect that Tur had
‘just knocked him out.'” Id. ¶
20. Nettleton's daughter, J.N., was in her room on the
second floor of the Nettleton home. She texted several people
that she heard her father and another person fighting
downstairs. Id. ¶¶ 21-27. At one point,
she went downstairs and saw a man on a cell phone standing
near her father, who was laying on the floor. Id.
J.N. “eventually realized” the man she saw was
Tur. Id. ¶ 22. J.N.'s text messages began
at 10:46 and lasted until 11:28 p.m. Id.
¶¶ 21, 27. After the fighting noises ceased,
Nettleton, who was shirtless, went into J.N.'s room and
spoke with her briefly. Id. ¶ 28.
following day, Saturday, January 10, K.W. and R.B., a member
of the Navy, began looking for Tur, who had not returned
home. Id. ¶ 29. The two went to Nettleton's
residence and asked if Tur was there. Id. Nettleton
told them that Tur had been there the night before, but that
he left after Nettleton told him to do so. Id.
Nettleton refused R.B.'s request to search the backyard
for Tur. Id. Later that day, Nettleton told the
Command Duty Officer to have the Security Department search
for Tur. Id. ¶ 30. Nettleton told the Command
Duty Officer that the last place anyone saw Tur was the
Bayview. Id. Based on the search by the Security
Department, Naval Criminal Investigative Service opened a
missing person investigation. Id. ¶ 34. Around
5:00 p.m. that evening, Nettleton directed the XO to expand
the search party, but the search was halted after dark due to
potentially dangerous conditions. Id. ¶¶
35-36. Later that evening, Lieutenant J.C. drafted a Navy
Blue message to send to Navy officials regarding Tur's
disappearance. Lieutenant J.C. sent the draft to Nettleton
and the XO. The message stated that Tur was last seen at the
Bayview. Nettleton did not correct this information.
Id. ¶¶ 41-42.
January 10, Nettleton spoke with Captain C.G. and informed
him that a civilian had gone missing and a search was
underway. Id. ¶ 33. Nettleton did not tell
Captain C.G. about Tur's accusations at the hail and
farewell, or about his altercation with Tur at his house
afterward. Id. ¶ 33. That evening, Nettleton
sent an email to Admiral M.J. and others, informing her that
a civilian was missing, that a search was underway, that
alcohol was involved, and that Tur had gotten drunk and gone
missing before. Id. ¶ 38. Admiral M.J.
requested additional information, which Nettleton provided,
stating that Tur may have been suicidal and “got
physical with [his wife] at the bayview [sic] . . . .”
Id. ¶¶ 39-40. Admiral M.J. instructed
Nettleton to call her at 8:00 a.m. the next morning. (Doc.
43-2 at 2).
following morning, Nettleton spoke on the telephone with
Admiral M.J. in the XO's presence. Nettleton updated
Admiral M.J. on the search efforts, but despite the XO's
urging, did not inform Admiral M.J. about the events that
occurred at the Bayview. Id. ¶ 45. Nettleton
told the XO that Admiral M.J. did not need to know about
that. Id. The XO, who K.W. had previously informed
about Tur's phone call and statement that he was
“at the Skipper's house, ” asked Nettleton if
Tur had gone to his house; Nettleton responded that he had
not. Id. ¶¶ 45-46.
11:00 a.m. January 11, Tur's body was located by the
Coast Guard floating toward Cuba's territorial waters.
Id. ¶ 47. An autopsy revealed that Tur died
from drowning, but that he also suffered broken ribs and a
laceration on his head before drowning. Id. ¶
55. During the search for Tur, individuals found a bloody
paper-towel in Nettleton's backyard. Id. ¶
48. NCIS collected the paper towel and a later DNA test
showed the blood belonged to Tur. Id.
January 12, the Navy Inspector General's Office informed
Admiral M.J. and Captain C.G. that someone filed an anonymous
complaint against Nettleton alleging that he was having an
affair with Tur's wife. Id. ¶ 52; (Doc.
43-2 at 2). At this point, Nettleton had still not informed
Admiral M.J. or Captain C.G. that he and Tur had been in an
altercation at the command-sponsored hail and farewell.
(Docs. 1 ¶¶ 54-56; 43-2 at 2). On January 13, at
Admiral M.J.'s direction, Nettleton called her. During
this call, he informed her that Tur had gone missing after
the hail and farewell, that Tur accused him of having an
affair with Tur's wife (which he denied), and that Tur
arrived at his house and yelled at him but that Tur then left
his house and returned to the Bayview. (Doc. 43-2 at 3).
Admiral M.J. “told [Nettleton] to go find NCIS and
explain everything to them” as he had to her,
id., but Nettleton never relayed this information to
NCIS, (Doc. 1 ¶ 54). On January 14 or 15, Nettleton
called Captain C.G. to provide him additional details
regarding what happened. Nettleton told Captain C.G. for the
first time that he had gotten into an altercation with Tur at
the Bayview, and that Tur had come to his house afterward.
Nettleton still did not tell Captain C.G. that he and Tur
fought inside his home. (Doc. 43-1 at 14-16). At this point,
Captain C.G. did not want to ask any questions that could
potentially “taint” any proceedings down the
road, and just listened to what Nettleton had to say. (Doc.
43-1 at 16).
began investigating Tur's death, and on January 17,
Captain C.G. told Admiral M.J. that NCIS officials had
learned that Tur and Nettleton got into a physical fight
inside Nettleton's home on January 9. (Doc. 43-2 at 4).
On January 20, Admiral M.J. decided to relieve Nettleton of
command, and relieved him the following day. Id.
was indicted by a federal grand jury for: obstruction of
justice in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(b)(3) (Count
One); obstruction of justice in violation of §
1512(c)(2) (Count Two); concealment of material facts in
violation of § 1001(a)(1) (Count Three); falsification
of records in violation of § 1519 (Counts Four and
Five); and false statements in violation of § 1001(a)(2)
(Counts Six through Ten). (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 60-79).