Coast Guard Cutter Douglas Munro

Coast Guard Cutter Douglas Munro at homeport in Kodiak.

A U.S. Coast Guard seaman accused of killing a seaman during a night of drinking in Dutch Harbor, has been released from the brig in San Diego.

In August, Coast Guard Seaman Ethan Tucker, 21, was charged with violating seven articles of the Uniform Code of Military Justice for a January incident that led to the death of fellow Coast Guardsman Ethan Kelch in Dutch Harbor.

Tucker and Kelch were assigned to the Douglas Munro, which is homeported in Kodiak. The cutter was in Dutch Harbor awaiting repairs when Kelch, 19, was found unresponsive and later declared dead. Tucker was originally charged with injuring Kelch and placing him in the water while the two were intoxicated.

But Tucker was released from custody on Monday, after an October Article 32 hearing — similar to a civilian grand jury — revealed new evidence.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that Snapchat videos posted by a witness present at the night of the incident showed Tucker trying to keep Kelch out of the water, not placing him in it, according to Navy Cmdr. Justin Henderson, Tucker’s attorney at the hearing.

The Union-Tribune further reported that according to testimony at the October hearing, Kelch often became belligerent and difficult to deal with when he drank. Henderson said that night the two men, along with a third, had downed a bottle of R&R Reserve Whiskey. Tucker fought to keep Kelch out of the water for about half an hour, according to Henderson, before Tucker collapsed, exhausted and intoxicated.

An additional hearing is scheduled for Dec. 3. After that hearing, it will be approximately four to six weeks before the convening authority decides whether to take this matter to a court-martial.

While he awaits his hearing, Tucker will be stationed at Coast Guard Base Alameda, California, where he will perform duties such as working in the mail room, setting up equipment, stages and chairs for presentations, and other duties as necessary for the base, according to an email from Coast Guard spokesperson Nyxolyno Cangemi.

According to Cangemi, Vice Admiral Linda Fagan, the convening authority on the case, reviewed the report from the October hearing and made the determination to amend the charges. 

Tucker faces six charges, including murder, involuntary manslaughter, failure to obey order or regulation, false official statement, obstructing justice and aggravated assault.

The new charging document omitted a maiming charge that appeared in the August charges. It withdraws allegations that Tucker “placed” Kelch in the water and injured him by “blunt force trauma.” 

Tucker is accused of making a false statement about striking Kelch. Tucker stated that he injured his hand by punching a steel bulkhead after learning of Kelch’s death, a statement which was “totally false,” according to the document. 

He also is accused of obstructing justice by misleading personnel regarding the whereabouts of Kelch’s body after his death.

If found guilty, the charges against Tucker carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, dishonorable discharge, and forfeiture of pay and allowances.  

Tucker was stationed in Kodiak and assigned to the Douglas Munro until June 4, when he was transferred to Coast Guard Base Alameda. While assigned to the Douglas Munro, Tucker’s tasks included standing watch, painting, cleaning, sweeping and other tasks aboard the ship.

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