By Julie Watson
For the Marines who served with Sgt. Manuel Loggins Jr., it would have been an injustice to stay quiet.
So in a move that broke with the military's tradition, Loggins' commanding officer at California's Camp Pendleton publicly rebuked civilian authorities in neighboring Orange County for their handling of the investigation into the fatal Feb. 7 shooting by a deputy of the highly esteemed Marine.
Many Marines have been investigated by police and had their behavior publicly dissected by civilian prosecutors in high-profile cases. Only weeks before Loggins' death, a former Camp Pendleton Marine was arrested in the killing of four homeless men in Orange County.
While Marines have each other's backs on the battlefield, when they get into trouble back home off base, the military tends to step aside while police investigate. But Marines say this time was different.
The death of Loggins has rocked the tight-knit Marine Corps community. Fellow troops describe him as a devout Christian man who was dedicated to his pregnant wife and three children — and was nothing like the picture painted by law enforcement.
The Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs has said Loggins plowed a car through a gate at San Clemente High School at 4:30 a.m., and then got out as his 9- and 14-year-old daughters could be heard screaming in the SUV. The association said the girls told sheriff's personnel their father had been acting oddly, while Loggins could be heard in a nearby field yelling irrational statements. When Loggins returned, he allegedly ignored warnings by deputies not to start the SUV. A deputy shot him, fearing for the children's safety, the statement said.
Loggins' commanding officer, Col. Nicholas Marano, countered back with a bruising statement issued to the media: "While I am confident they will do the right thing in the end, I am less than satisfied with the official response from the City of San Clemente and Orange County. Many of the statements made concerning Manny Loggins' character over the past few days are incorrect and deeply hurtful to an already grieving family."
The words were especially searing given the military's close relationship with law enforcement agencies — many of whom are made up of former service members — and the fact that the investigation was in its initial stages. The Orange County district attorney's office is leading the probe and declined to comment.
Loggins' supervisor, Maj. Christopher Cox, said Marano's bold statement won applause in the Corps.
"We're glad he stepped up and made a statement over the way this has been handled," he said. "Everybody reads the report presented by the Orange County officials. Obviously it contradicts what we know to be the case about him. He was involved with his family. His relationship with his daughters was fantastic. They were a close family. To paint it any other way is not right."
Marano declined to talk to the media after issuing his statement.
Tom Dominguez, president of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, also declined to speak to The Associated Press but his office issued this: "Our statement was about the events of the morning of Feb. 7, 2012 and nothing more. We issued the facts not a commentary on the character of any individual in this case. We await the results of the independent investigation."
The deputy, Darren Sandberg, served in the Corps. Sandberg, a 15-year Sheriff's Department veteran, is on leave.
The Corps has kept in contact with Loggins' family and Cox said they have not been given adequate information.
Cox declined to say whether the Corps believes Orange County officials are trying to cover up a mistake. It would be irresponsible to speculate about what happened, he said, but it was not unusual for Loggins to be at the school at that hour.
Loggins went there regularly with his daughters so they could run together before he had to be on base by 7:30 a.m. Cox said Loggins' oldest daughter asked to train with her father so she could join the high school track team one day, and his 9-year-old often tagged along.
The death has been difficult for the Marine community to accept because there are so many unanswered questions, Cox said.
Loggins was unarmed and had three Bibles in the vehicle — one for himself and the others for his daughters, Cox said.
"There are rules of engagement that have to be followed by anyone carrying a weapon whether that be a law enforcement officer or the military," Cox said. "I know the rules we have are quite stringent. I don't know what they are for Orange County officials, but I imagine they would be about the same."
The media often points out when someone in trouble is a service member, and Cox said the public may be quick to assume this was another case of military personnel losing control. But Cox said those assumptions can cloud the truth.
Loggins, of Joliet, Ill., enlisted in 1998 but was never deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan. Cox said he was a humble, kind hardworking Marine who had received multiple medals. The office where Loggins worked handled cargo shipments for the base. He was studying to be a nurse and volunteered at local nursing homes.
There were no signs of trouble, said Cox, who worked with him almost daily.
"Everybody wants closure but that's difficult to do without information. It's made it even more difficult over the fact that it was a shooting by a law enforcement officer," Cox said. "It doesn't add up for a lot of people here."
Marines deal with death as part of the job, Cox said, but "we've been left in a state of limbo and in my opinion that's made it more difficult to accept this than if it had been in a combat scenario."
Sheriff's Department spokesman, Jim Amormino, said deputies are justified in using deadly force if they feel their lives or the lives of others are in danger. He said he is confident the district attorney's office will do a "thorough examination of the incident" and that his department will continue to have a strong relationship with Marines.
"We both wear a uniform, both serve our country in different ways, and always have had a great relationship," he said. "This was a tragic incident. There's no question about that. It is very tragic for anyone involved and our deepest sympathies go out to them. We just have to let the investigation take its course."
Loggins' family could not be reached for comment.
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Copyright 2012 Associated Press