Coast Guard captain was relieved of duty for inappropriate behavior

An investigation into the head of Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound, who was removed from his post in mid-February, found that he engaged in inappropriate behavior with three female Coast Guard members.

Capt. Andrew Tucci was being investigated for abusive sexual contact, a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The Coast Guard's investigation indicated there was "permanent relief for cause," and Tucci retired. The decision was approved by the assistant commandant for human resources and the commander of the Coast Guard's Personnel Service Center.

The Coast Guard announced in a news release in mid-February that Rear Adm. Steven Poulin, commander of the Coast Guard's First District, which is responsible for Coast Guard activities in Connecticut, temporarily was removing Tucci from his job "due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command."

Tucci was reassigned to the Coast Guard's Research and Development Center in New London "until further notice."

The Day received a copy of the investigation into Tucci through a Freedom of Information Act request.

According to the investigation, on Jan. 30, 2018, the Coast Guard Investigative Service office in New London was notified that a female member of Sector Long Island Sound had reported that Tucci had touched her leg inappropriately during a closed-door, one-on-one meeting.

In an interview with Coast Guard investigators a day later, she said that it was common knowledge throughout the unit that Tucci focused his attention on her and other female members. She said that Tucci sought her out and pressured her to apply to Officer Candidate School and gave her "over the top" praise.

She said it was obvious that Tucci was only interested in female members applying to be officer candidates, and that she knew of a man who was applying and that Tucci never talked to him about it, according to the investigation.

Tucci brought her into his office several times to go over her application, closing the door each time, she said. During the last of these meetings in his office, which happened between May 2017 and July 2017, Tucci sat in his chair at first, but then got up and sat next to her on the couch as she became emotional talking about the narrative portion of her application because in it, she described personal issues. She alleged that Tucci pressed his body up against hers and put his hand on her thigh. She told investigators it wasn't a pat or a quick touch; "it was almost like he was looking for more ... it felt like a test of the waters."

Afterward, she told two people, who were angry and wanted to report Tucci's behavior. But she was adamant that she did not want them to report the incident.

When initially interviewed by Coast Guard investigators on Feb. 5, Tucci said he did not remember putting his hand on her thigh, but that it was "possible" he touched her thigh. "If I did touch her leg, I didn't mean it in that way. ... I can imagine that perhaps I did touch somebody's leg. ... I certainly wasn't trying to get any favors to get to OCS or some ridiculous thing like that," he told investigators. On Feb. 7, Tucci called a Coast Guard investigator to say that he remembered touching the female member's thigh and that he "wasn't trying to be sexual" or "get away with anything" but was "trying to make a human connection," according to the investigation. He said he was ashamed because it didn't occur to him that "that touch would be an alarm signal for women."

The female victim detailed another incident that happened at a shipmate's baby shower when, as she was about to leave, Tucci allegedly told her that she had to stay and have a drink with him. She told investigators that she went into the kitchen to have a drink with him because "you're not gonna say no to the captain."

When interviewed, Tucci denied inviting her to drink champagne with him.

She and another female member of Sector Long Island Sound were encouraged in late January to be forthcoming on an upcoming climate survey about anything going on at work that made them feel uncomfortable.

Tucci was informed in mid-January 2018 that there likely would be negative comments about his interaction with women on the survey, and he was advised to let Coast Guard District 1 know in advance so they wouldn't be surprised, according to the investigation. He emailed Poulin, the commander of District 1, on Jan. 16, telling him "that our upcoming climate survey may indicate some areas where the unit, or I personally need additional work."

"An offer to help a junior female petty officer with an OCS application for example, or to assist with personal problems may be perceived as inappropriate, or reflecting a bias. For that I alone am responsible, as perceptions are reality, and good intentions, however sincere, can only take one so far," he wrote.

Two other female members of Sector Long Island Sound also were interviewed by Coast Guard investigators.

One of them said that Tucci also pressured her to apply to OCS. Over the course of several months, he repeatedly urged her to put together an application package, she said, and he set up a meeting with her so she could "see the whole process and what officer life would look like."

During the meeting, Tucci was sitting in his chair and then, for no apparent reason, came and sat next to her on the couch. He didn't touch her, but moved close to her, and that "felt like an invasion of my personal space," she said. When she moved away from him, Tucci went back to his chair. The meeting ended and he opened the door. She stopped working on her application because she was concerned if she continued working on it, there could be more of those types of interactions with Tucci, the investigation says.

She described Tucci as "a hugger" and said that on two different occasions he put his hand on the middle of her back while talking to her. After having a difficult year personally, she said Tucci seemed extra attentive toward her, and said things like, "We hope you're doing OK, ya know I love ya."

When interviewed by investigators, Tucci said, "I'm a little bit of a touchy feely guy, all right? And that obviously is not serving me well here today." He added that he had behaved this way throughout his entire career, and in 28 years no one told him that his behavior made them uncomfortable.

A third female victim and member of Sector Long Island Sound who was interviewed by Coast Guard investigators said Tucci sought her out to the point that other members made jokes about his focus on her. Tucci gave her "long" handshakes, she said, and his behavior toward her was "unnecessary and prolonged." After a difficult deployment, he told her either "we love you" or "you know I love you." He offered to mentor her one-on-one to help her improve her public speaking skills but she did not take him up on his offer.

Tucci said it's possible other members interpreted his attention toward her as inappropriate but he was trying to give her support as she was going through difficult personal issues, according to the investigation.

When interviewed, Tucci compared himself to the "mayor of a small town" and said, because he had so much power over the people in the command, there was focus on his behavior and his actions were amplified. He said it was humiliating not to be able to go into work and he was anxious to get back.

j.bergman@theday.com

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