Sheila Kay Jones, an E-4 petty officer in the Navy. She is a religious-programs specialist attached to the chaplain’s office at the Naval Amphibious Base here in Coronado.
The pictures are faintly voyeuristic, and cinematic. They damn with their intimacy those caught in the 35mm frame, paint them in flat blacks and whites made all the flatter by the foreshortening of the long lens that was used to shoot them. Two people at a car in a parking lot. That’s really all that is pictured. But as with all surveillance photos, the impression generated in the appraising eye is that one is seeing what he should not be seeing; it is easy for the viewer to take one more mental step and think, therefore, that what he is seeing should not be happening. Recall, for example, those high-altitude shots of what the CIA, several years ago, told us was a Soviet missile base in Cuba; or, for another example, of those scenes from Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation in which two young lovers circle an urban park as they murmur not quite comprehensible words to each other. In those two examples we wouldn’t have known what was being depicted unless we were told. On the other hand, even if we weren’t told anything, we would have felt something was amiss, that something ominous was contained in those images. The surveillance photo is capable of revealing only limited information; usually the essence of what is being recorded is altogether absent. Why is this woman at this car with this man? We want to know what this surveillance photo is unable to tell us. The photos beg for an explanation that can satisfy our curiosity, which is so often so morbid.
The woman in the photos is twenty-four-year-old Sheila Kay Jones, an E-4 petty officer in the Navy. She is a religious-programs specialist attached to the chaplain’s office at the Naval Amphibious Base here in Coronado. The man is somewhat older, only by a few years, and his name is Johnie Earl Norwood. He is an E-3, one rank lower than Jones, and is an engineman working at the operations and repair facility on the same base. Some time after these photos were taken by an agent of the Naval Investigative Service, Norwood mounted the stand in an October 4, 1982 court-martial on the base and testified that on May 18 he gave Sheila Jones forty-five dollars in exchange for a baggie filled with marijuana she had taken from her car. An NIS agent also testified that Norwood came to him the day before with news that the transaction was set to take place, and that on the appointed morning the agent searched Norwood, found him clean, and gave him the forty-five dollars to buy the marijuana, which Norwood minutes after the transaction turned over to the agent.
In these black-and-white photos, five of them altogether, none of them reveals the actual hand-to-hand transaction .
That is what is going on in these black-and-white photos, five of them altogether, none of them revealing the actual hand-to-hand transaction — the essential detail that is missing in this particular record of surveillance, but which is supplied by Norwood and James W. Garten, the NIS agent who supervised Norwood’s planned buy.
When the court-martial ended on October 5 after two days of hearings, for all practical purposes so did Sheila Jones’s Navy career, a career that had been, at least on paper, model for an enlisted person. On the date of this alleged sale to Norwood, May 18, 1982, she was on the verge of becoming an E-5 after just two years and six days of active duty. Navy regulations generally require a minimum six months’ interval before petty officers can rise a grade in rank; however, Jones received exceptionally favorable evaluations from supervising officers and the chaplains for whom she was an aide. But on the final day of the court-martial she was demoted three grades in rank, back down to E-1 and a much lower pay scale. Her sentence also included thirty days in the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown San Diego, where the Navy sends its errant women because there is no women’s brig on the numerous bases in this area. And she was ordered to forfeit more than half of her E-4 pay — $367 — for two months. A week after she returned to base from the Metropolitan Correctional Center, she was informed that the Navy was also seeking to discharge her under less than honorable conditions, a discharge that had not even been part of her sentence.
“Sheila Jones was a superb representative of your command and of the Navy — both on and off the basketball court.”
Curiously, Johnie Earl Norwood's lackluster Navy career yielded him better treatment. He had served the Navy longer than Jones in two separate stints, but never did rise as high as she. At the end of March, before he purportedly bought the marijuana from Jones, a urine sample taken as part of the Navy’s six-month-old antidrug program revealed a quantity of PCP in his system. In August, after the reported drug purchase from Jones, another sample revealed the presence of marijuana in his urine. In the after-math of his busts, Norwood did not lose his rank nor did he serve time in the brig. After the second bust he was ordered to forfeit $200 of his monthly pay for two months, but that punishment was suspended. Unknown to Sheila Jones and at least two other sailors who went to courts-martial, Norwood was working as an informant for the Naval Investigative Service — getting high and doing it with impunity.
For some reason, Jones had been targeted by Navy investigators long before the parking lot incident in May. “We had tried several times before to make a purchase from her," agent Garten told the court-martial on October 4. Jones, who was earning extra money as a lifeguard at the amphibious base, remembers only one time that Norwood might have been trying to set her up, and that was at the pool. “Norwood came up to me and asked, you know, did I have a boyfriend? I’m sitting up there half-dressed and he’s trying to come on to me and he asked me, ‘Do you do drugs?’ And I said, ‘No, I don’t do drugs at all.’ And then, ‘Do you want to get some drugs?’ And I said again, you know, ‘Flake off, no I don’t do drugs at all.’ I mean, after all, I’ll talk to people until they get to something I don’t really want to end up in, so he got lost.” At the time, Norwood was a face and nothing more. She recognized him because he had been in the same petty officer training class as Jones and had been frocked at the same ceremony on December 18 of 1981. Shortly afterward he showed up at a basketball game in which Jones was playing and was introduced by name to her after the game, but Jones insists she never retained the name, or in any case did not equate it with Norwood’s face.
Carla Yvette Sanders, an E-3 in July and now an E-1, is awaiting a bad conduct discharge.
Much later, in August of 1982, when she was first informed by agent Garten that the NIS had a case against her that originated in May of that year, and then again when the Navy legal officer read her the charges, Jones says the name Norwood meant nothing to her. “When the JAG officer [Judge Advocate General] read me my charges, I said, ‘I have just one question. Could you please tell me who Johnie Earl Norwood is?’ He said, ‘Well, he’s an enlisted man.’ I knew that already because I knew he was an E-3; it said so on the charges. But he told me, ‘Well, that’s all I can tell you.’ So I went to the base locator and asked who is Johnie Earl Norwood, what’s his rate [job description], where he works? So they looked it up and they told me where he works.”
David Davidson: "I’d see him at night sometimes when he came over to our apartment."
But if she didn’t know enough about Norwood to connect his face to his name, what was she doing at that car with him? Sheila Jones isn’t very convincing on this point. “I really don’t remember the incident when Norwood was at my car,” she told the court-martial , "except that he asked me for a favor or a ride. If I gave him a ride, I wouldn’t get out of the car.” (One of the photos shows her emerging from the driver’s seat.) “But we might have just sat in the car to exchange information or a favor or something. I don’t remember that incident.”
There is more mystery surrounding this set of photos, a confusion that in fact strips more credibility from the Navy’s case than it does from Jones’s. The aging 1974 Audi she and Norwood are shown entering in the parking lot was indeed hers until recently, when she sold it to help offset her loss of allowances for off-base housing and food that resulted from the conviction October 5. But just when those photos of the car were shot, just when the surveillance took place, is in doubt — in doubt because Sheila Jones is the kind of person who keeps her paperwork. She gave her Navy defense lawyer a worksheet from Import Auto Repair at Fifty-eighth and El Cajon Boulevard that indicates the Audi’s fuel pump and brake master cylinder were being replaced in that shop on May 18. The worksheet and testimony of the man who owns the garage were entered as evidence in the court-martial. So was the testimony of a civilian lab technician who told the court that he remembered escorting the NIS photographer to the vantage point of the photo lab overlooking the parking lot. The lab technician told the court-martial that the agent said, “This is the view I want. That sign over there might be in the way, but I’ll do the best I can.” The lab technician said on the stand, “He showed me a van and a car parked next to it, which I believe was an Audi. To the best of my memory, that incident occurred just before I went on vacation, maybe two weeks prior.” The lab technician’s vacation started July 6. That’s the problem with surveillance photos; they seem to establish fact, but they don’t.
Jones now says she wants out — but only with an honorable record.
It’s January 13, 1983 and the women’s basketball team from North Island is warming up to the hip-slick sounds of a ghetto blaster in muni gym in Balboa Park. North Island’s team is short, its center no taller than the opposition’s shortest starter, but their lay-ups are lazily proficient and their rebounds and passes out to the lay-up lines are crisp and businesslike. Sheila Jones grabs a rebound in midair, legs straightened but split at forty-five degrees. She drives the ball downward for one bounce off the floor that’s completed before her feet hit, and the ball is sent off to the teammate coming in from the lay-up line.
The opposition in this city league game, J&J Sporting Goods, is about to be blown away by the Navy team, and Sheila Jones is the biggest reason why. She’s just returned from George Air Force Base in Victorville, where she was named to the all-tourney team in an invitational meet. Last year she made the twelve-member All-Navy basketball team that flew back to Indian Gap, Pennsylvania to meet the best women of the other three branches of the armed services. She runs, she guns, but she finds the open teammate, too; and above all, she plays with great enthusiasm, slipping past the slower, heavier opposition and letting out a whoop for the ball. Now and then she’ll curl through the alley with the ball held in her outstretched palm like Dr. J, hit on a long jumper, or sky the ball downcourt to a fast-breaking Navy forward. At the buzzer the score is Navy 68, J&J 20. Jones is all asweat and has nearly twenty points.
She was born and raised in Kansas City, one of two sisters and seven brothers. The house she left for the Navy several years ago her parents moved into when Sheila was a baby. For years her father commuted several hours to Emporia, where he worked in a slaughterhouse; then he became a janitor for the school system in Kansas City. Her mother works as a janitor for a bank. “They were always good parents. They’ve worked hard, they’ve always made the ends meet, and I’ve never wanted for anything. I’ve been a spoiled brat and we never had much. Yeah, we never had much but my mother could spend her last fifty bucks on a cheerleading skirt for me and I really appreciated that when I grew up and I knew the value of getting things and not just having them thrown at you without love.”
She was among the youngest of the nine children. “I had to learn to control my temper too, because, you know, with seven brothers, you get mad at them and what can you do but just go wild.” Her brothers would not let her play basketball with them. They kidded her about her skinny legs, and called her Skits. In tenth grade she encountered her first organized basketball program. “I was really aggressive — I had so many brothers that you got to be kind of fast and quick. And another thing is, they used to always call me so puny when I was young, they used to call me Skits and I thought, basketball will develop your legs. You’re jumping, you’re gunning. I was so skinny and I just hated it, my legs were like little pencils and I'd say, ‘Oh my god, I can’t go through all my life like this,' and so I thought I really had to be athletic. And that’s where all this came from.”
Her elementary and junior high schools had been predominantly black, and according to her, without money for girls’ sports. “As organized as it got is, they’d get the girls and we had to run around the building. We had physical fitness tests we had to pass every year and according to how good you did ... I always used to match up with the boys. All the girls would have to do fifty sit-ups or so, but I would be the one that would always do a hundred. I’d have to be extraordinary. I’d be sick the next day but it really excited me to go past and beyond my point. We didn’t have a basketball team. It was like once a year you’d get to play the female teachers, that’s all. It was no foundation. If you would have asked me what a pivot is, I couldn’t have told you.”
Before basketball season in her first year of high school, she discovered her homeroom teacher was also the basketball coach, and that the atmosphere of the school was having an effect on her. “It was like a new environment. It was half and half. Wow, I finally, actually got a white teacher. Something’s different here.” The homeroom teacher and basketball coach enrolled her in a basketball camp, where they found she was one of the best jumpers from a standing start; in fact, they filmed her jump and used it to instruct other girls. “Back then it made me think, ‘God, I could take this a long way.’ If somebody says you're good at something, you know, you go forward with that.’' The teacher was to become a big influence. “Even though I was a pet, she made me do my work and she made me sit in the front, right in front of her face, you know. She ended up [later] being my German teacher, too. Why else would I take German of all things when everybody else was taking Spanish? So she really encouraged me a lot and especially made me get in the German class and I made straight A's.”
The favorite teacher convinced her to try college, and helped her apply for and win a basketball scholarship to Tyler College in the Texas town of the same name. It didn’t work out. “I’d never been out of Kansas City, then all of a sudden I’m sent here to this little bitty town. It was the same old people playing high school games and all. And my having a best friend who was thirty-one, you know, my coach, I couldn’t relate.” She was at the small school for something like four months in 1977 and left before the start of basketball season to preserve her first-year eligibility at some other school, which in January 1978 turned out to be Emporia Kansas State College, near her home town. That didn’t work out either.
She stayed there through December of 1978, just less than one year. “The biggest thing there was athletics, strictly. There hadn’t been a black who made the female basketball team in five years. They were always cut. And the one girl five years before who had made the team went all-conference, so you had to be good, have some potential to make the team to begin with. And then to stick it out for four years? Forget it — you were tough after that. And so I really, those fundamentals, oh, there’s nothing I wanted more than to be there with them because they were such a good team and I could see that, and I could hang with them and my speed could have really helped them a lot.”
Fundamentals of the game. It was the fundamentals Jones says she never got early enough. In junior high she resented having to play against well-drilled girls from other schools. Her high school coach was herself learning the game and couldn’t bring trade secrets to her players sooner than she was learning them. “Even now,” says Jones, ‘‘ I hardly ever use a fake. I take it straight to their faces because those little bitty things nobody told me to do — how to block out somebody on a free throw, how you pivot when somebody’s going to try to grab the ball, how you hold the ball up instead of bringing it down — little things like that mean a whole lot and can kill you if you haven’t got them down.” She made the team but got no playing time, which she doesn't think was fair.
Jones took her case — the claims that her ability was as high as those who were playing, the color prejudice — to the coach’s face. “Yeah, we went 'round and ’round. I think we found about five different spots in the gym just to get away from people . . . and I was feeling great because I had her by a string. Like, hey, I can pull you, make you mad whenever I want, I was thinking. I told her, ‘You’re not letting me use my ability. I’ve never had anybody to go at it but me, and I’ve wanted it this bad to go this far. That’s why I’m still trying to be here. You’re not letting me learn, you’re letting me get out here and run like a fool and sweat and be first all the time but you’re not letting me use my ability.’ ” She quit the team once. Her high school coach, who had graduated from Emporia, talked her into returning and talked to the college coach on her behalf. “It meant a lot to me that she was, you know, a white coach, too, and that she would take her time out to come down to talk with this other lady and say, ‘Hey, there’s something else with this kid, you know, besides her being just a, you know, regular black kid.’ ” Another road trip followed. Jones wasn’t on the bus. A tournament followed the road trip, and she got no playing time at all. “I had friends that came to watch, and I didn’t get even a second on the court. I went inside to the locker room, threw my bag over where the trainer was, and I said, ‘Hey, you tell the coach where to shove that.’ ”
Back home in Kansas City in 1979, Sheila bussed tables at a country club and hired on with the city to learn lifeguarding. She enrolled in a few junior college classes, and worked out with the school basketball team. That same year she signed on with the Navy in something called the delayed-entry program. A two-week visit to her brother James had told her she liked San Diego and she knew she could play service basketball and draw enough pay to save for another shot at college.
She had it in mind to be a Navy journalist, but openings for that specialty are uncommon and sought after. On the other hand, she didn’t want to enter without specialist training and told the recruiter she wanted to be tested for eligibility. “They had to guarantee me something or I wasn’t signing nothing.” Several possibilities struck her as adequate, among them cryptology and religious programs specialist, but journalism might have meant a two-year wait. She went home without signing the induction papers. “They kept calling me. You know, they don’t let you rest. They come over and talk to you, they call you, and meanwhile my mind was going, I’m not getting anywhere here, and you’re giving me these choices.’ You know, life is not going to let you swallow up all that you want all the time, so go for what you think you might like. So I went ahead and went with the religious programs specialist because it was wide open. It was a brand-new [Navy position] and I knew I’d advance fast. Then, too, my father’s a Baptist preacher — he doesn’t have his own congregation, he’s like an assistant — and I knew how to get along with these people. ...”
For seven months she waited in the delayed-entry program for an opening in the chaplain’s training program to come up. Almost from the beginning of active duty, Jones had trouble keeping her mouth shut and tolerating the little and not-so-little humiliations pf service life, just as she had trouble riding the bench for a basketball coach who tended to favor second- and third-year players.
After boot camp in Orlando, Florida, she was sent to Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi for specialist’s training. The Navy at the time, late in 1980, had no religious-training program of its own and Jones says the Air Force instructors were doubly abusive to the few Navy people on the base. “They used to tell me my uniform was on wrong but it wasn’t; they just didn’t know our regulations. I’d been through boot camp and / knew how to dress. Me and a master sergeant stood up there in front of everybody one day, I mean this was in front of a hundred people at an inspection, and he said, ‘I’ll bet you that your belt buckle is on backwards.’ And I walked right up to him and stood right by his side and said, ‘Now you looky here, this is a female pair of pants. My fly goes that way and your fly goes the other way and your belt buckle goes with it. Now, go buy me a Coke. You bet me a Coke and I won.’ After that, things was fired up, and they didn't like me at all because I was outspoken.”
In the months that followed, Jones went before Keesler authorities a number of times. In one incident, she was granted a leave of absence but signed off the base only with her Navy superiors and not the Air Force’s, an oversight that landed her in a Captain’s Mast. Later, a drill instructor called her a “dummy” and ordered her to stand at attention in front of other recruits, which she then refused to do. Still later, when a twisted ankle refused to heal quickly, she altered a doctor’s waiver, extending it another day. Caught for that small forgery, she went before another Captain’s Mast that also included the charge of refusing to stand attention. Before she could appeal the subsequent conviction and fine, her orders to San Diego came through and she left Keesler rather than extend her stay to pursue the appeal.
She arrived at the Naval Amphibious Base’s chaplain’s office in January of 1981, still an E-1, a seaman’s apprentice, the only religious programs specialist on the base, the only assistant to three chaplains. She did their typing and accounted for their collections during Mass and services. She set up baby cribs and baptisms, ran projectors, placed the hymn manuals, put out the coffee and stir sticks and donuts and cookies at socials, ordered and set up floral arrangements for weddings, ran to get holy water, changed the cross from the Protestant to the Catholic and back again, set up and tore down the public address system. And of course, she answered the phones and placed the orders for provisions and audited the books. “And the whole trick was, everybody else in this area has two or more [assistants] to do all this. Miramar has six, NTC has eight, Thirty-second Street has ten, and there’s two or three per ship. And so you see that I was carrying the heavy load right there.”
Her regular evaluations from commanding officers were laudatory. “. . . Is extremely competent . . . portrays a ‘can do’ attitude and willingly accepts all assigned tasks . . . exemplary and professional manner . . . excellent command of the English language . . . definitely an asset to the Navy,” reads one. “. . . Highly motivated . . . mature and positive . . . seeks self-improvement through college courses on off hours . . .looks for jobs to be done and sets out to accomplish them,” reported another superior officer. She might have been a bit too proud and headstrong for the Air Force in Mississippi, but the Navy in San Diego seemed to like this energetic, five-foot, five-inch basketball-playing dynamo of a chaplain’s assistant . The commanding officer of North Island Naval Air Station, Captain Robert Watts, wrote to his counterpart at the amphibious base in Coronado thanking him for loaning Jones to the nearby North Island basketball team. “Sheila Jones was a superb representative of your command and of the Navy — both on and off the basketball court,” Watts wrote in May, 1982, by which time Jones had climbed three grades to E-4. A month earlier, the Navy’s sports coordinator in Washington, D.C. sent Jones an equally laudatory letter thanking her for her performance at Indian Gap, and sent carbon copies to her commanding and superior officers. More months went by and she became eligible to take the test for another rise in rank, to E-5, petty officer second class. Then August came and she took the test. A few days later she was told by the NIS that somebody named Norwood had given the investigative agency a case against her that was soon to go to court-martial. She went to see how she’d scored on the E-5 examination and they told her it didn’t matter now, the test had been put in the shredder because of the charges against her, and they wouldn’t even tell her how she’d done on it.
It doesn’t pay to know Johnie Earl Norwood, not even as a friend. One who found out how treacherous the landscape was around this sailor is David Davidson, a young Navy engineman from Detroit whose roommate provided Norwood beer over lunch at Davidson’s Imperial Beach apartment late in 1981. “My roommate and him [Norwood] both worked at the boathouse [the Navy’s ship repair center in Coronado], They got to be good friends. He used to bring him over to the room all the time. After a while I’d see him at night sometimes when he came over to our apartment. Norwood knew everybody. He was friends with everybody,” Davidson says. Davidson held an E-3 rating before he met Norwood, and now holds an E-1 rating and a federal prison record largely as a result of that acquaintance. “Nobody would even believe it when I told them I’d seen my report and that he had set me up. Not Norwood, they’d say. He was the biggest drug burn-out anyone knew. He’d be doing everything.”
By mid-April Davidson and his roommate had been joined in their Navy quarters by a third sailor who was in transit and awaiting a court-martial on charges of selling cocaine. About a week after his arrival, the new roommate, according to Davidson, said he’d just come into some cocaine. “He’d bought a few grams and said he was going to sell a little bit. Norwood by then always came over every day at lunch and we’d have a few beers, so my new roommate figured Norwood was cool and he asked him if he wanted to buy some. Norwood said he’d get back with him. So he came over on the twenty-eighth with some money. My roommate went over to his locker, got the stuff out — three packets, I don’t remember how much was in there — gave Norwood one and put the other back and Norwood left.”
The very next day, April 29, Davidson took a scheduled urine test — his fourth or fifth since the October, 1981 start of the urinalysis program — and for the first time came up positive for both marijuana and cocaine usage, which he was informed of on May 8. He was placed on a regular drug testing program called, in the vernacular, a “two-by-four,” which sent him to a screening department twice a week to give urine samples. Norwood was already cooperating with the NIS surveillance program, having been caught with PCP on a urine test a month earlier, in March. “Every Tuesday and Thursday we'd go pee at the same time and place from early May to August. Norwood and I'd go in a bathroom with a senior chief or somebody else and they’d watch you urinate in a bottle and put it in a little box and off it went — never seen it again. He’d always gotten high, everybody who knew him knew that, but after April he didn’t care, he’d say it in the division in front of almost anybody. He’d say, ‘Yep, 1 got full last night,’ or something like that as if he was sayin’, ‘No one can do nothin' to me.’ And no one could. 1 didn’t know that at the time, I just figured he didn’t care because he was already busted. But he didn’t care because he had NIS backing him up on everything he did. He'd talk about doing his drugs, in front of people like the divisional career counselor, and she was also the assistant DAPA [Navy terminology for antidrug and alcohol officers], and she used to administer the urine tests.”
Davidson says that after the positive urine test came back, he was told he would be going to a captain’s mast, the Navy’s least serious disciplinary procedure. He was later told he was headed for a summary court-martial, the least serious of the court procedures. Another month went by and he learned that, for some reason, his case would be heard in a special court-martial, a proceeding serious enough to endow its judges with the right to sentence offenders to up to six months’ hard labor and a bad conduct discharge. (Only a general court-martial carries harsher implications.) By August, Davidson learned why he had been scheduled for the special court-martial. He was accused by Norwood of having sold the cocaine back in April.
“In August, Garten [the NIS agent who supervised Sheila Jones’s case] calls me in and asks me if I want a drink of water,” Davidson recalls. “Asks me if I wanted to go to the bathroom. I guess he thought I couldn't handle what he was going to tell me. And he says, ‘Okay, we’ve got you for selling coke.’ He said I was selling coke, and I was still selling coke. He said he’d been watching me.” At the beginning of the session, Garten offered Davidson a waiver form stating that Davidson had agreed to talk without counsel. Davidson signed it, but the interview lasted only a few minutes after Davidson was told what he was being accused of. There were five charges in all, and they lumped the cocaine sale together with urinalysis charges to be heard in the one court-martial. Davidson says he asked Garten who had accused him of selling coke, but that Garten refused to say. The next day he learned from a superior officer who called him in to sign official charge sheets that bore Norwood’s name.
“So I called Norwood’s house and I asked him about it,” Davidson says. “I asked him what he was doing, because he knew I wasn’t selling nothing, you know. And he says he doesn’t know what I’m talking about: ‘There's some mistake, somebody’s messing with you. I’ll be in there Monday morning to straighten this out.’ I call him the next day and his phone was disconnected, he had moved, he was gone. And with my $280 worth of speakers — Jensen triaxials. He was a friend of mine, I fronted him the speakers ’til payday. 1 didn’t know he’d be gone before payday.”
The next time Davidson saw Norwood was in court, at Davidson’s court-martial in mid-September. “He wouldn’t even look at me when they told him to point me out. Two times they told him to point me out and both times he didn’t look at me and they had to tell him a third time and he finally looked at me real quick but even then he wouldn’t look me in the eye. I looked at him a lot, though.”
According to Davidson and one of the Navy lawyers present at the court-martial, it was Norwood’s first time on the stand and he was unable to hold his testimony together. He told the court that he was not able to recognize cocaine and that he was not a drug user. (In fact, at the time he said this to the court, Norwood had already been busted three times by the Navy as a result of urine tests, for PCP, cocaine, and marijuana.) But the crucial breakdown came when Norwood told the court that Davidson had solicited the sale of cocaine on behalf of the roommate. Norwood originally had told the NIS that Davidson was acting on his own behalf, information which was on the charge sheet. The Navy prosecutor attempted to argue that solicitation constituted sale, since a sale had been documented. The third roommate, who had actually sold the cocaine, might have clinched the case for the defense, but he was already out of the Navy on his prior cocaine conviction and was never brought to court by the Navy to testify. The defense, however, was able to destroy what remained of Norwood’s credibility when it called witnesses to dispute Norwood’s claim that he had not met the third roommate before the day of the sale. They testified that Norwood was introduced to the third roommate first by someone other than Davidson. Davidson was found innocent of all charges relating to the sale. Still, on the basis of his urine test alone, he was sentenced to forty-five days in the Thirty-second Street Naval Station brig, fined, and demoted two grades back to E-1. His pending entry to a specialist’s school at Great Lakes was denied, and his off-base housing and rations allowances were also terminated. When he got out of the brig late in October, Davidson says, he was told he would not be discharged. By mid-November he was told he would be. In December he was sent to a drug counselor, a move which usually indicates no discharge. By mid-January he was told again that he was up for discharge.
He says that during the forty-five days he spent at the Thirty-second Street Naval Station brig, an installation that is considered a federal prison (though some Navy brigs are not), he never met another inmate who was in as a result of urinalysis checks, and that urine checks that are positive generally result in placement in the “two-by-four” program. A Navy spokesman describes Davidson’s contention as nonsense, that “hundreds” of sailors caught up in the urinalysis program have been sent to brig. Davidson believes that the Navy, convinced he was a drug trafficker but unable to prove it, decided to sentence him on the urinalysis charges as if it had proved the Norwood case of cocaine sales.
“Norwood was buying from anybody who’d sell, but he wouldn’t turn everybody in because he was buying for his own use,” Davidson says. “He was using on his own. He just did this NIS thing to save his own skin but he was partying with the people who still partied all the way through to the day he disappeared in August.” But why were some chosen by him as his ticket out of trouble, and others not? “Probably he figured some were easy because they were from the same base as him. Who knows? But he would have done it to anybody, real friends or no. He would have taken anybody, his best anybody, because I was a good friend of his, and he considered me one even after he busted me. Just before he got Carla, he even gave her a pair of speakers. He didn’t care. He was just looking out for numero uno.”
Carla is Carla Yvette Sanders, an E-3 in July and now an E-1 awaiting a bad conduct discharge after her November conviction on charges she sold Norwood a bit more than four grams of marijuana, enough to roll perhaps six or seven joints, more or less. She was working at the Coronado boathouse scraping and painting and lettering hulls and doing other maintenance work at the amphibious base.
She was there when Norwood arrived late in 1981, sometime during his second tour of duty in the Navy. Norwood was rated as an engineman, Sanders did bosun’s work. “I never worked directly with him,” she says. ‘‘It was just that he and I were there day after day. I never socialized with him.” Carla Sanders is, or was, a Navy basketball player, too. She too comes from Kansas City, though Sheila Jones and she met here for the first time when they were playing for the women’s team at the amphibious base during the 1981-82 season. Carla remembers that one night in January of 1982 Norwood, together with some of his friends, showed up at one of their basketball games. First there was the frocking ceremony Norwood and Jones attended as part of the same class, then the poolside meeting. Here, now, was another moment when Norwood’s face and name could have come together in Jones’s mind. At the basketball game, Sanders says Jones did not know him. ‘‘When they [Norwood and friends] came around to congratulate us after the game, I introduced him to Sheila. She didn’t know him.”
Sanders remembers that all during the summer of 1982, the period when Norwood was getting caught for drug usage, he never was absent from the boatyard longer than a few days, and he never lost his ‘‘crow,” the eagle that flies on the patches of petty officers above the stripes denoting their petty ranks. Sanders knew that he’d been busted for the PCP. ‘‘As far as I knew, he was scheduled for a court-martial. Everyone who got popped [she did not] at the boathouse at the same time as him went to court-martials, most of ’em for marijuana in the urine.” He seemed to swagger a bit. ‘‘He told everybody at the boathouse how much trouble he got into during his first time [his first tour of duty] — something about having planted a bomb onboard a ship.” Did she believe that? ‘‘Hell, he was using PCP and that makes people crazy."
Sanders fell prey to Norwood July 8, after David Davidson and Sheila Jones did, but before any of them were informed of the charges the Naval Investigative Service was separately preparing. Her court-martial took place in November and in it, Norwood, by now somewhat more adept as a witness, said Sanders offered to sell him a small amount of marijuana out in front of the base gate the morning of July 8, before base personnel reported for inspection and duty. That location was picked because Norwood did not have a decal that would allow him to drive on past the gate. Norwood, with agent Garten, described how they waited at the gate from 7:00 a.m. to about 7:30 a.m. with no sign of Sanders. Garten, according to Sanders, testified that he’d made out one slip showing he’d given Norwood twenty-five dollars with which to buy the marijuana, and then another slip after the first contact with Sanders failed to materialize. Garten, Norwood, and another NIS agent whose name Sanders remembers as Goodwin, and who said he witnessed what followed, all said the drug buy took place at about 8:06 a.m., just after the colors were raised in front of the boathouse.
‘‘I never sold him nothing" Sanders insists. ‘‘The testimony in court was that it happened July 8, but on the marijuana baggie [introduced as evidence] the date was July 7. They were saying it happened six minutes after they raised colors at 8:00 a.m., but I’m never downstairs at that time because I’m always dressing then. Everybody does that because they try not to be there and have to salute and all that.”
Sanders wonders why she was convicted for other reasons, too. ‘‘They said I never showed up and they waited for me at the gate until 7:30. Now, we have to get to quarters at 7:30 a.m. and we have to be in uniform.” (The “dressing” she earlier referred to consisted of putting on work coveralls to protect the uniform.) “The NIS says Norwood had on civilian clothes at 7:30 when they left the front gate. It takes ten minutes to get from the gate to the boathouse for inspection. How can you make it through the gate at 7:30 a.m. and be at inspection in uniform at the same time? It was just a story they made up and didn’t have together.” There were no surveillance photos of the transaction.
In her one-day court-martial, Sanders was convicted on November 10 of possessing, transferring, and selling the small amount of marijuana, reduced two grades to E-1, ordered to forfeit $350 of one month’s pay, and sentenced to thirty days at MCC, after which she would be processed out on a bad-conduct discharge. “If I was guilty, I would have done the time and said nothing, but even then I wouldn’t have expected a bad-conduct discharge.” Her civilian lawyer assures her that he has filed an appeal of the sentence and the discharge, but on January 10 Sanders’s commanding officer told her that he had signed over the discharge papers after his own review and sent them on for further processing of the discharge.
“Navy sentences,” says a Navy spokesman, “are contingent on so many considerations other than those in civilian courts.” Prior performance, attitude, and work reports, he explained, make for different standards for administrative and judicial discipline. So too, there seems to be a very different standard regarding the gathering and presentation of evidence, and just who is and isn’t credible.
When Norwood took the stand October 4, the first day of Sheila Jones’s court-martial, he said that he and Jones agreed on May 17 to make the forty-five-dollar transaction the following day, and that he would show up at the chaplain’s office shortly after 8:00 a.m. Garten was warned, and the morning of May 18 Garten searched Norwood, gave him forty-five dollars, and sent him over to the chapel. Norwood says he rapped on the chapel door and, looking through its window, saw an older civilian woman, a secretary, sitting at the desk.
Mary Marshall, the civilian secretary on her second day of work, testified she was not in the office at the time Norwood claimed to have seen her there. That morning, from 8:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., Mary Marshall was at an indoctrination session for new employees, and she told the court-martial that for the twenty to thirty minutes she was in the office before 8:00 a.m., Sheila Jones never left it.
Garten took the stand after Norwood, expanding the details of how the buy was to occur and what was done on the morning of May 18 in the NIS office to ensure that Norwood was not simply carrying an incriminating bag of marijuana with him prior to leaving for the chapel. Garten said the quantity that Norwood was to buy from Jones was to weigh half an ounce, roughly sixteen grams. Garten said he and agent Hamilton escorted Norwood toward the chapel and that Hamilton separated from them to take up his position on a second-floor landing of the photo lab. Garten walked back to his office and waited for Norwood to return with the marijuana. Given the green baggie, Garten placed it in a plastic evidence container and logged that the combined weight of the container, the marijuana baggie, and the marijuana itself came to about fifteen grams, much less than would be expected if Norwood had actually purchased from Jones the planned half ounce. Garten told the court he recognized the evidence container with the marijuana baggie inside because it bore his initials and the date of May 18. However, the only dates on the evidence entered in the court record, both the baggie and the evidence slip, are June 25 and June 29.
Then one of Sheila Jones’s two most important witnesses took the stand — Peter S. Hunts, the owner and operator of the car garage. “I did repair work on Sheila Jones’s car on the seventeenth through the eighteenth of May,” Hunts testified. Under prosecution questioning aimed at establishing that the work receipt, though it might bear the May 18 date, could have meant only that the work order was written up that day, Hunts explained his procedures, and noted that the receipt bore the words, “additional work authorized at 11:30 on the 18th.” “That means,” he said on the stand, “that I spoke to her about 11:30 that day. I believe that that would have to indicate that I had the car in the shop at that time.”
The other witness most important to Jones was the civilian photo lab technician who had also contradicted the May 18 date. He took the stand and conceded under the prosecution’s cross-examination that the NIS photographer who took the shots of Norwood with Jones at her car could have visited the lab to take surveillance photos any number of times without the technician’s knowledge. But the lab technician also remembered that on the visit in question, which he believed took place in late June, not May 18, the NIS photographer showed him a view of the parking lot — one that included a van with Jones’s Audi beside it.
The prosecution offered no evidence other than testimony from the NIS and Norwood, the pictures, and the marijuana baggie. It did not call to the stand the lab technician’s boss (who might have escorted the NIS photographer to his lookout position without the technician knowing of it). It did not explain, nor was it asked by Jones’s defense attorney, why the weight of marijuana varied so widely from charge sheet to entered evidence. Nor why, if the marijuana was in Garten’s hands on May 18, it was not until June 25 that he sent it out to the Navy chemical lab for identification as marijuana.
“It all looked shaky,” Lt. Jacqueline Cunyon Gordon says. She was Sheila’s defense attorney. “The NIS has said drugs are ninety percent of its work. Anyone who comes up positive in a urinalysis is recruited, and that was what he [Norwood] was doing. He was working off a PCP bust. Of course, he always said that that was part of his cover.”
Sheila Jones, Carla Sanders, and David Davidson all say that when they were called in by the NIS, they were told indirectly that their cases could be affected positively if they would cooperate with NIS investigators and provide names of other sailors who were using drugs. Garten, during Jones’s court-martial, made little effort to deny the use of such pressure. “When I was transferred to the office at NAB,” Garten testified, “I made some liaisons with Martin Cassell, the legal officer [Lt. Commander Cassell, of the Judge Advocate General’s office], and I was asking him for some information regarding drug activity there and also for potential sources of informants that we could use to make purchase of marijuana for us. At that time he mentioned Johnie Norwood to me. Lt. Commander Cassell had Norwood’s file there and I did review his file. There was one drug charge on him, but other than that he had a clean record. I then went to Captain [G.E.] Pillow, the commanding officer of the base, after calling in Johnie Norwood and asking him if he would be willing to work for us in return for possible future considerations, whatever they may be. I went to Captain Pillow and advised him of Norwood’s willingness to assist us and the Navy. The captain said that that was fine but that no agreement would be made between him, us, and Norwood. He said it would be based on his performance and what he would do for us and the Navy. Norwood worked for NIS before and after the charges were dropped against him. Charges [the PCP bust] were pending against Petty Officer Norwood at the time that he set up the buy with Petty Officer Jones. He continued to work for us and to participate in drug transactions after the charges were dropped.”
Sheila Jones says that her lawyer, Lt. Gordon, was distressed by the verdict against her client. Lt. Gordon says, “The guy who ran the photo lab, I thought he was convincing, and that it all led to conclusions that they [the NIS] were fabricating. The judge took me aside later and told me that I built too high a threshold for the jurors and himself to step over; their belief couldn’t be made to go that far. He said, ‘We didn’t want to believe it then and I don’t want to believe it.’ They rejected the idea that NIS was making up the whole thing.”
Gordon did one more thing for Sheila Jones: she wrote the commanding officer a letter asking that Jones not be kept initially in confinement at the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center. “Women, because they have to go to MCC, suffer. But the CO wouldn’t order reassignment.”
Sheila Jones has an idea why the marijuana that the Navy says she sold Norwood on May 18 was not turned over to a Navy lab for chemical identification for more than a month. “I guess it took that much time for them to take those pictures.”
Not surprisingly, spokesmen from the Navy’s public affairs office have another explanation for that thirty-eight-day delay. In response to written questions pertaining to Jones’s case and to the Navy's antidrug campaign generally, spokesmen replied that such delays are not uncommon. Though they wouldn’t discuss Jones’s case in particular, the spokesmen said that often such a delay results when officials take time to consider whether a case should be prosecuted, and in what manner.
There remain, however, a number of questions unanswered by the Navy. For example, there is the discrepancy between NIS agent Garten’s testimony that the evidence container holding the baggie of marijuana was dated May 18 when in fact the only dates on the container are June 25 and June 29. Also, while Garten told the court-martial that Norwood’s deal with Jones was supposed to be forty-five dollars for about sixteen grams of marijuana, the actual amount submitted as evidence came to just over six grams. Did Norwood receive less marijuana for his forty-five dollars than he expected? Was he lying to agent Garten about the amount to be purchased? Did Norwood pilfer some of the marijuana before handing over the baggie to Garten? Or did Norwood simply throw a small handful of the weed into a baggie, hand it to Garten, and claim that Sheila Jones had sold it to him? And of course there remains the evidence that Jones couldn’t have been photographed at her car on May 18 because the car was being repaired that day.
Tomorrow Jones’s commanding officer will return from a vacation. One of the items awaiting his attention will be a hearing of the Administrative Discharge Board, which will determine whether Jones is to be released from the Navy and under what conditions. Jones herself requested the hearing after learning that, in effect, she had no alternative if she hoped to be discharged honorably. Because she was convicted of the felony offense of trafficking drugs, the Navy automatically began the process that would lead to her eventual discharge; the administrative board has the authority to discharge her less than honorably, to discharge her honorably, or to dismiss the discharge proceedings altogether and consider her earlier punishment to be sufficient. A less-than-honorable discharge, however, would mean Jones would lose the two-for-one matching money the Navy has contributed thus far to her own college-tuition fund (she’s been putting in seventy-five dollars per month). A less-than-honorable discharge would also tarnish her record for prospective employers after she left the Navy.
In spite of her earlier commitment to and enthusiasm for her work in the Navy, Jones now says she wants out — but only with an honorable record. The Navy, she says, has treated her dishonorably and she no longer wishes to serve people who would resort to trusting someone like Johnie Earl Norwood.
And what of Norwood? An acquaintance of Carla Sanders, Jones’s basketball teammate, spotted him several weeks ago, sitting in his car somewhere along University Avenue in San Diego. Sanders’s friend is reported to have made it clear to Norwood that his continued presence around town was a bad idea, and Norwood sped off. He hasn’t been seen since. A spokesman for the Navy, when questioned about Norwood’s affairs, noted that Petty Officer Norwood never did receive a reduction in his rank but that sometime in December he was transferred out of the San Diego area, though he remains in the Navy today. The transfer, said the spokesman, was “considered necessary and appropriate to the needs of the Navy.”