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Marine Corps drops charges against lance corporal who spent 113 days in the brig

Lance Cpl. Catherine Arnett’s legal problems began when she refused to get vaccinated for COVID-19.
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Miramar Brig
FILE: A Sailor assigned to Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar exits the quarterdeck of the 400 occupant combined male/female facility. (Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Thomas E. Coffman/U.S. Navy)

The Marine Corps has withdrawn all charges against Lance Cpl. Catherine Arnett, who has been enmeshed in complicated legal issues since she refused to get vaccinated for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) last year, a service spokesman confirmed.

The blog TRMLX tweeted on Monday what appears to be a redacted copy of a June 5 letter from the commander of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing to Arnett’s trial counsel announcing that the convening authority in Arnett’s case had decided to dismiss all charges against her without prejudice, meaning the charges could eventually be refiled.

Marine Maj. Rob Martins, a spokesman for the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, confirmed on Tuesday that charges against Arnett have been dropped for now.

“This decision was made judiciously while balancing what was best for Lance Cpl. Arnett and the United States Marine Corps,” Martins told Task & Purpose.

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Arnett had faced charges of failing to attend an appointed place of duty and going from an appointed place of duty; missing movement; breach of restriction; willfully disobeying a superior commissioned officer; and disrespect toward a noncommissioned officer, according to a copy of her charge sheet which Task & Purpose obtained.

Arnett is now expected to be administratively discharged from the Marine Corps with a recommendation for a general discharge under honorable conditions, Martins said.

“The convening authority believes this is best for both Lance Cpl. Arnett and the institution at this time,” Martins said.

For Arnett, this is likely déjà vu all over again: the Marine Corps has twice tried to court-martial her, only to drop all charges against her before trial. This is also the third time that the Marines have tried to administratively separate her.

Arnett’s complex legal drama began last year when she refused to get vaccinated for COVID-19 while stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni. She sought a religious exemption to the Defense Department’s vaccine mandate because fetal cell lines from abortions carried out decades ago were used to develop the vaccine, according to Stars and Stripes.

Many other service members, including Navy SEALs, have also vocally objected to the COVID-19 vaccine on religious grounds for the same reason even though no abortions were performed to produce the vaccine, no fetal cells were in the vaccine itself, and fetal cell lines have been used to develop other vaccines that troops are required to get.

The commander of the 1st MAW at the time initially ordered that Arnett face administrative separation for refusing the vaccine, but after she twice refused to board a flight to the United States, she was referred to a special court-martial on charges of violating a lawful order and missing movement.

But Arnett’s case was put on hold after a federal judge ruled in August 2022 that the Marine Corps could not separate Marines who had requested religious exemptions to the Defense Department’s mandatory vaccine policy.  That prompted the 1st MAW to decide to withdraw the charges against Arnett and let her leave the Corps as scheduled on November 30, 2022.

Army COVID shot
U.S. Army personnel administer the COVD-19 Vaccine at Fort. Hood, Texas, Feb. 20, 2021. (Staff Sgt. Daniel Herman/US Army)

Then things got even more complex.

While awaiting her trial, Arnett allegedly submitted a document with a commander’s signature on it so that she could regain her access to the Defense Travel System, or DTS, which had been revoked, according to the Marine Corps.

Additionally, Arnett was allowed to stay in the Marine Corps for an extra year under an imitative announced in September 2022 for Marines who were facing separation for refusing to get vaccinated for COVID.

The TRMLX blog published an email in January that appears to show her command was aware that her access to DTS had been restored. Still, Arnett was accused of forgery and falsifying official documents. Maj. Gen. Eric Austin, the current commander of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, ordered in December 2022 that Arnett be administratively separated.

In January, Arnett allegedly refused to go to her final physical, move to a different barracks, and show up for two flights to the United States, according to the Marine Corps. She was initially placed in pretrial restriction and later sent to the brig on Jan. 23.

After being transferred to the Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar in California, Arnett was released on May 15. She had spent 113 days in pretrial confinement.

Arnett’s attorney could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

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