Marine drill instructor gets 10 years in prison for hazing recruits, especially Muslims

Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix was found guilty of dozens of criminal counts.

ByABC News
November 11, 2017, 12:47 PM
U.S. Marine Gunnery Sgt. Joseph A. Felix and his wife exit a courtroom after testimony at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Oct. 31, 2017.
U.S. Marine Gunnery Sgt. Joseph A. Felix and his wife exit a courtroom after testimony at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Oct. 31, 2017.
Rory Laverty/The Washington Post via AP, FILE

— -- A military jury has sentenced a Marine Corps drill instructor to 10 years behind bars for tormenting and physically abusing young recruits, especially Muslims, including one who later killed himself.

Gunnery Sgt. Joseph Felix on Thursday was found guilty of hazing and maltreatment of over a dozen recruits at the Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina. The 34-year-old Iraq War veteran was convicted of dozens of criminal counts as the eight-member jury determined he kicked, punched and choked trainees including targeting three Muslim-Americans whom he allegedly taunted as "terrorist" and "ISIS." He also pressured at least of the Muslim recruits to get into an industrial clothes dryer.

The jury at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, on Friday sentenced Felix to military prison, reduced his rank to private and also ordered that he forfeit all pay and receive a dishonorable discharge.

"He wasn't making Marines. He was breaking Marines," prosecutor Lt. Col. John Norman told jurors Wednesday, adding that Felix was a "bully" who particularly "picked out three Muslim recruits for special abuse because of their Muslim faith."

Defense counselor Navy Lt. Cmdr. Daniel Bridges declined a request by The Associated Press to comment on the conviction and sentencing Friday. During the trial, Bridges argued that testimony by recruits are boot-camp stories that are conflated, contradictory and "blown out of proportion," the AP reported.

A hazing investigation at the Parris Island boot camp led to charges against Felix after the March 2016 suicide of one of the Muslim-American military hopefuls Felix was accused of maltreating.

Raheel Siddiqui, a 20-year-old from Taylor, Michigan, jumped to his death on March 18, 2016, after having been “forcefully slapped” in the face between “one and three times” by his drill instructor, according to a report obtained by ABC News from Marine Corps officials in September 2016.

He then "stood, ran through the back hatch (exit) of the squad bay, and vaulted the railing of the stairwell, causing him to fall from the third deck of the barracks to the access stairs below," the report said.

At the time Siddiqui had been complaining that his throat hurt and he “would not speak or answer when prompted.” He had fallen to the floor grabbing his neck “in apparent pain and failing to comply with orders to respond.” The report said Siddiqui's drill sergeant insisted on an “an acceptable response” that precipitated his slapping the trainee.

The 2016 report also found that Siddiqui’s drill instructor was alleged “to have engaged in serious misconduct with a previous platoon, including hazing and verbal and physical abuse of a Muslim recruit.” Substantiation of those allegations should have led to his suspension as a drill instructor, according to the report.

Siddiqui's drill instructors weren't named in the report but Felix was one of them, according to The Associated Press.

Five days prior to his death, Siddiqui was found to have made a suicidal threat that led to his being placed on watch and scheduled for a mental health evaluation the next day. He recanted his threat but his unit’s leadership “failed to report an allegation he made of physical abuse by his drill instructors,” the report said. The next day he was cleared for duty.

A Marine Corps statement in September 2016 said, "Findings from the Siddiqui investigation conclude that Siddiqui's death was the result of suicide."

In another case, Felix was accused of ordering former recruit Lance Cpl. Ameer Bourmeche into an industrial-size clothes dryer and turning it on as he demanded Bourmeche renounce his Muslim faith. Bourmeche, now a 23-year-old lance corporal at Camp Pendleton in California, testified during the trial that he twice affirmed his faith and twice Felix and another drill instructor order him to climb inside the dryer.

Bourmeche alleged they turned on the dryer with him inside three separate times while asking whether he renounced Islam. Fearing for his life after a third bruising spin, Bourmeche said, he told them he was no longer Muslim. He was then allowed to get out of the dryer, he said.