Command master chief arrested and relieved

command-master-chief-arrested-and-relieved

A Florida-based U.S. Navy command master chief was relieved from his leadership position at Naval Ordnance Test Unit last month, according to officials.

Master Chief Tracy F. Kuchta was relieved Sept. 19 “due to a loss of confidence in Kuchta’s ability to perform the duties of a command senior enlisted advisor,” the Cape Canaveral-based unit’s spokeswoman, April Crew-Kelly, said in an email.

While Navy officials did not provide specifics regarding Kuchta’s relief, it followed his arrest by Brevard County Sheriff’s deputies on Sept. 18 after Kuchta was accused of assaulting another man before he resisted arrest and was tased, according to law enforcement records.

Reached by phone Monday, Kuchta, 41, disputed law enforcement’s description of what happened on the evening of Sept. 18 in a Rockledge neighborhood and said he was only defending himself.

Kuchta faces misdemeanor charges of property theft and resisting arrest without violence, according to court records.

He also faced a misdemeanor battery charge and a felony robbery charge, but prosecutors withdrew those last week, court records show.

Sheriff’s office officials did not return calls this week seeking more information about the encounter.

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Officials with Florida’s 18th Judicial Circuit, which covers Brevard County, also declined to comment on the case.

But circuit spokesman Todd Brown said that, in general, “every complaint that our office receives undergoes a careful and thorough review by experienced prosecutors to determine if they reasonably believe the alleged crimes can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.”

Such a standard is “much higher” than the probable cause standard met by law enforcement when arresting a defendant, Brown said.

Deputies arrived to the 1700 block of Clubhouse Drive at about 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 18, according to a deputy’s affidavit entered in Kuchta’s Brevard County court file.

There, Kuchta “appeared to be under the influence of alcohol” because “his eyes were glossy and his speech was slurred,” according to the affidavit.

“I detected the impurities of alcohol coming from his person,” the deputy wrote.

The officer wrote that Kuchta had punched an unidentified victim, and that “the victim was bleeding heavily from his head upon deputy’s arrival.”

The deputy also wrote that Kuchta took the victim’s iPhone, shirt and shoes, and that Kuchta “discarded the victim’s shirt and shoes in a nearby pond,” the report states.

The report also alleges that when deputies attempted to ask Kuchta about the incident, “he refused to cooperate and began shouting.”

At one point, Kuchta attempted to pull away when they tried to handcuff him, according to the report.

“The defendant was escorted to the ground where he continued to resist until he was ultimately tased and placed in handcuffs,” the deputy wrote.

Deputies found the alleged victim’s iPhone on Kuchta and he told them he was keeping it as “collateral,” the report states.

When paramedics attempted to assess any injuries to Kuchta, he refused care “and told them to ‘go (expletive) yourselves,’” the deputy wrote.

Reached by phone Monday, Kuchta said “a big part of the story” had been left out.

Kuchta told Navy Times he was riding with his girlfriend back to his house in her golf cart that evening.

At a crosswalk, Kuchta said he pulled her keys out of the golf cart’s ignition and that she protested, but that they were joking around.

Kuchta escribedthe udnidentified victim in the police report as “a concerned citizen” who came to check on Kuchta’s girlfriend, but she told him they were fine, according to the master chief.

The unidentified man started grabbing him and wouldn’t stop, Kuchta said.

The man eventually pulled him from the golf cart, tackled him and was on his chest, according to Kuchta.

“I started fighting back,” he said.

Kuchta said his girlfriend has video of the encounter, but he declined to provide a copy to Navy Times, citing the ongoing case.

At one point, Kuchta said, he told his girlfriend to go home and he then fled from the alleged victim and his friend, who were in their own golf cart and “trying to track me down.”

He said he hid out in the woods about a half mile from his house until the police showed up.

“They were very aggressive from the get-go,” Kuchta said of the responding deputies. “The other guy was very bloody, so they immediately assumed I was the aggressive one.”

Kuchta said he had the other man’s phone because he was “trying to figure out who he was.”

He alleged that the responding deputies were “brutal,” and showed up “guns a-blazing, ready to go.”

“I was hiding in the woods from the guys, I heard the megaphone from the (deputies’) car … they’re screaming at me to put my hands up,” said Kuchta, who added he hasn’t filed a formal complaint against the deputies.

“I have an attorney and am still looking at how to go forward,” he said.

Kuchta also took issue with the event being characterized as an “alcohol-related incident” by the Navy.

“My issue is that I consumed three total drinks in four hours” before the encounter, he said. “These were measured drinks. Two of them were beers.”

“I was attacked in my neighborhood, defending myself,” Kuchta added. “I’m confident that, three drinks or zero drinks, I would’ve reacted the same way.”

Kuchta objected to the Navy’s assertion that he was relieved on Sept. 19, and said he was only relieved last week.

He said he doesn’t “feel slighted by the command.”

“I love the Navy, I love my command, I’ve been dedicated,” he said. “I completely understand that as a command master chief, I’m held to a higher standard.”

Kuchta enlisted in 1997 and made master chief in 2015, according to service records.

He remains assigned to the NOTU, a unit that tests sea-based weapons systems.

About

Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at geoffz@militarytimes.com.

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