After conviction in Coast Guard court-martial, jury sentences petty officer to 8 years in prison
Soon after he heard the verdict that labeled him a sex offender, Petty Officer 2nd Class Omar Gomez stood and pleaded with six Coast Guard officers for a second chance to serve his country.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Omar Gomez's five charges and the jury's findings:
Violation of a general order by sexually harassing a seaman on the basis of her gender: guilty of the only specification.
Maltreatment of subordinates by making sexual comments to six female Coast Guardsmen inferior in rank: guilty of three of six specifications.
False official statement by telling investigators that he didn't have sex with the civilian woman who accused him of rape, then recalling the next day that he had sex with someone whose face he couldn't remember: guilty of the only specification.
Aggravated sexual contact by fondling four female shipmates, raping the civilian and exposing his genitals on three occasions: guilty of seven of 10 specifications.
Conduct discrediting to the armed forces by taking a picture of his genitals with a seaman's camera: guilty of the only specification.
Gomez, 35, was convicted Saturday of five violations of military law, including aggravated sexual contact and harassment of seamen under his command aboard the cutter Gallatin.
In asking for a sentence that would let him stay in the military, Gomez apologized for the pain his accusers and other shipmates had endured. He stopped short of admitting to a crime.
For someone raised by a single mother in Puerto Rico, his Coast Guard service let him see and do things he had never imagined, he said. He wanted nothing more than to be deployed with his shipmates again.
"It has caused me to take a good look at myself," Gomez said. "I don't want this crime to define me as a man. ... I will work to do something positive for others."
But he won't get a chance to do that in the military.
The jurors who found him guilty earlier in the day sentenced him to eight years in prison, demoted him to the lowest enlisted rank and ordered a dishonorable discharge. Their findings ended the six-day court-martial at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in North Charleston.
The jurors had wide discretion in determining the penalty. Their options ranged from nothing at all to as much as 120 years in prison.
Gomez had no arrest history and had been awarded two good-conduct medals before the allegations arose in September 2012.
Lt. Mike Tiley, one of two Coast Guard prosecutors on the case, had asked for a 20- to 30-year sentence.
"(He) violated the sacred trust between superiors and subordinates," Tiley said. "He used his position of authority to prey on new members."
But Lt. Katherine Shovlin of the Navy Judge Advocate General's Corps, one of two defense attorneys, said Gomez had dedicated a decade of his life to his country.
Making him leave the military, live behind bars for five years and suffer the stigma of being a sex offender would be harsh enough, she told the jury.
"He chose to serve," Shovlin said, "and that's worth something."
Tears trickled off the faces of five of his accusers who sat in the front row of the gallery. One grunted in disbelief at Shovlin's recommendation.
"Five years?" the young woman, clad in her dress uniform, whispered to a former shipmate.
But the women were not there when the sentence was read later in the day.
Each of Gomez's five charges included several separate allegations, or specifications. The jury didn't find Gomez guilty of all specifications, but it took such a finding on just one to convict him of the entire charge.
A guilty verdict required four of the six jurors to agree. They did not announce their vote tallies.
Gomez had supervised a deck-maintenance crew of about 30 people on the 378-foot Gallatin. Six female shipmates accused him of fondling them, exposing his genitals or making sexual comments to them.
A civilian girlfriend of a Coast Guardsman also said he raped her as she slept in a West Ashley apartment.
'How it hurt'
More testimony and arguments from attorneys came with the sentencing phase.
'How it hurt'
Tiley called five of Gomez's accusers back to the witness stand.
The first Coast Guardsman tearfully relayed how the stress of her encounters with Gomez might have endangered her pregnancy.
The woman came forward about the misconduct after she said Gomez poked her in the stomach and offered to take her out on a small boat and cause a miscarriage.
She later learned that she had been carrying twins. One of the babies didn't make it. The other, a son, rested in the arms of her husband as she told jurors how the mistreatment caused turmoil in her marriage.
"I don't let (my husband) hold my hand," she said. "We don't hug that much. I formed a guard. ... I don't want to show anybody how it hurt."
Other female seamen who had served under Gomez on the Gallatin testified that they considered leaving the Coast Guard. Their experiences early in their careers tarnished their view of military culture.
Many of them had said that sexual teasing and touching was common on the ship but that Gomez had crossed a line.
"It's really hard just to look at ... my shipmates," one said. "It's hard to trust people these days."
'Undo the harm'
But the five women remained in the Coast Guard. One was promoted to petty officer. One described how she landed with a new crew in Alaska who gave her the respect that was lacking on the Gallatin.
'Undo the harm'
The civilian woman who accused Gomez of rape has since adopted a dog who knows the word "sic," she said. She bought a gun.
She still can't bring herself to leave her house alone. She can't look into her father's eyes without being emotionally overwhelmed, she told the jurors.
She cried on the witness stand.
But hearing the verdict Saturday brought a relief she hadn't experienced, she said, in nearly two years.
"For the first time," she said, "I was not sick to my stomach."
After the victims spoke, Gomez told the jurors that he would do anything to take back his actions, but he offered his accusers an excuse.
"One day," he said, "they'll see that this was a misunderstanding on my part."
He tried to elicit sympathy.
His mother had died shortly before investigators started looking into his exploits, he mentioned.
He bemoaned the shame he brought to his friends and his children. He has three daughters - the oldest is 6, the youngest is 9 months - and an 8-year-old son.
"I wish I could undo the harm," he said. "Now, I know I can't."
Federal agents later led him away from the courtroom in handcuffs.
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.