A career Navy officer will get a new chance to fight her involuntary discharge over sexual escapades "unbecoming an officer" that left her ousted just five months before she became eligible for retirement benefits.
In January 2007, Syneeda Lynn Penland was serving with Maritime Expeditionary Support Group ONE, stationed in San Diego, when Chief Petty Officer Kimberly Lewis-Wiggan brought a flash drive to the group's staff attorney containing photos of Penland having sex with a man whose face was obscured.
Lewis-Wiggan allegedly obtained the photos by gaining unauthorized access to the laptop of her husband Mark Wiggan, another Navy officer. The two were in the middle of a divorce at the time.
"When the photos were discovered, Ms. Penland was 'offered mast, a low level administrative punishment.' She declined mast and her commanding officer, Captain John Sturges, formally charged her with adultery, conduct unbecoming an officer, disobeying a lawful order, and making a false official statement," reads a portion of a decision issued January 30 by U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer.
Penland was court-martialed on the charges, which she says were unnecessarily harsh and motivated by the fact that she'd filed complaints of financial impropriety against Sturges in the past, and that the charges "for adultery before a general court martial was part of a pattern of selective prosecution of female officers in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment."
Wiggan, her alleged partner in the adultery, faced no charges.
She further argues that her civilian boyfriend was not allowed to testify during the proceedings to identify himself as the other party in the pictures — Lewis-Wiggan instead testified that she was able to identify the man as her soon-to-be ex by moles and birthmarks.
While Penland doesn't challenge the court martial itself, where she was found guilty on four counts and sentenced to 60 days' incarceration and a $9000 fine, she does seek to overturn later disciplinary actions that caused her involuntary discharge on July 31, 2009, listed as “General (Under Honorable Conditions),” with “Unacceptable Conduct” named as the specific reason.
If successful, Penland would receive a court order forcing the Navy to allow her to retire at the rank she would have attained had she been allowed to complete her service, making her eligible for full benefits including a pension and lifetime medical care.
Per court documents, Penland has since moved to Buford, Georgia, where she is unemployed and receiving treatment for blood cancer. She maintains a website, billing herself as an "author, poet, military veteran, and human rights advocate."