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Gay Navy Pilot Leaves Service

Cover image for podcast episode

LT. ADAM ADAMSKI

Navy Lt. Adam Adamski is pictured in the cockpit of a U.S. Navy aircraft in this undated photo.

A harassment incident during a Marine Corps Birthday Ball pushed one pilot's career into limbo, a decade after the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy ended. Meanwhile, Escondido Police have released the names of the man killed in last week's police shooting and the officer who shot him. Plus, a new book tells the story of the mysterious death of 32-year old Rebecca Zahau at the Spreckels mansion in Coronado 10 years ago.

Good Morning, I’m Annica Colbert….it’s Wednesday April 28th.

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One of the few openly gay pilots is leaving the Navy

More on that just after the headlines….

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Fully Vaccinated people can go outside without a mask, and can gather in small groups outside maskless. That’s the latest guidance from the CDC on covid-19 protocols. Masks are still recommended for indoor settings. Dr. Abi Olulade with Sharp Rees-stealy says relaxing restrictions is certainly good news but she’s worried people will let their guard down too much.

outdoor transmission risk is quite low but i'm also worried because the risk is not zero… i think it is important to give people an incentive because studies show the vaccines are protective against infection and also from dying.

State and county health officials say they are working to align their local guidance with federal officials.

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Covered California officials are urging the public to take advantage of cheaper insurance prices available thanks to the American Rescue Plan. Officials says all current customers will see lower premiums starting in May. There’s a special open enrollment period, but it ends this friday.

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A magnitude 3.5 earthquake shook Borrego Springs at 3:50 this morning. According to maps from the US Geological Survey, light shakes could be felt in Poway, San Diego, Spring Valley, Lemon Grove, El Cajon Alpine and Jamul.

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From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now.

Stay with me for more of the local news you need.

Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell ended 10 years ago. And yet, one of Naval Aviation’s few openly gay pilots is on his way out. The Marines substantiated his claims of harassment, after an incident following a west coast Marine Corp Ball.

KPBS Military Reporter Steve Walsh tells us why it wasn’t enough to save his career.

For most of his six years in the Navy, Lt. Adam Adamski says he felt supported as an openly gay pilot. He can tell you when that changed.
“November of 2019.”
Adamski is a helicopter pilot for a Navy search and rescue squadron. The group works closely with the Marines. Adamski was invited to a west coast Marine Corps Birthday Ball at a local casino. He came back to the hotel room where Marines had been holding an after party.
“So when I walked in the room. I knew something wasn’t right. The TV had been moved, like on a pivot to face the doorway. And I saw my dress whites draped over and around the TV and there was hard core gay porn playing.”
His uniform wrapped around a TV, playing pornography. It didn’t feel like a harmless prank -- it felt like something else. Some of the other Marines in the squadron wanted to find those responsible. But Adamski says he was getting ready for his first deployment as a pilot -- he wanted to shrug it off, and let the matter go. But word had spread.
“I received numerous calls from people who were in the closet, in that squadron,
both men and women and openly gay service members. Telling me that they are upset. That the climate, especially for pilots, is not a good climate and they think that I should report it.”
The Don’t ask Don’t Tell policy, allowing LGBT service members to serve openly, ended a decade ago. But a study in the journal Sexuality Research and Social Policy found 59 percent of service members still don’t feel comfortable coming out to their peers. Sasha Buchert is a former Marine and attorney with the civil right organization Lambda Legal. She says changing the law didn’t change the culture.
“It’s one thing to have don’t ask, don't tell removed. It’s another thing to have a culture where people feel safe being who they are and not have to worry about being discriminated against. ...And a lot of this comes from the top down.”
Eighteen months after Adamski reported the incident, he still hasn’t received final word on his case. His version of events has been substantiated by the squadron commander in charge of the three Marines found culpable and later by an inspector general's report. Initially, the squadron commander even offered to pull their pilots wings for the incident. Adamski thought that was too severe.
“I want an in person apology from all three of them. I want a meeting, in which they are there and I can talk to them.”
He also wanted something in their permanent record. The incident continued to eat at Adamski.
He was in a serious relationship with an Air Force pilot who was talking about coming out of the closet. They broke up after he saw Adamski’s experience.
“I lost a lot. I’m not happy. I no longer feel I’m an effective leader, an officer, a pilot. I don’t feel part of the military anymore. I feel segregated.”
Adamski has been called into the headquarters for Naval Air Command more than once to address his decision to speak publicly about his case. The Navy says it is up to the Marines to comment. Major Alex Lim, spokesman for 3d Marine Aircraft Wing, says the Marines initially acted quickly on the complaint.
“Marines, sailors, in our units are treated in a culture of dignity and respect. We want to prohibit any activity where these individuals would be harassed.”
Adamski stopped logging flight hours as the case dragged on. Last spring, he had a road accident that made it even tougher to qualify to fly. He was given the option -- as a Navy officer - to retire. Adamski took it -- in the next couple of months his six-year career as a Navy pilot will end. But not his quest for some kind of recognition that what happened to him wasn’t right .
“Most people back down because of all this hassle and I won’t. I’m not someone who will back down easily or ever. I’m not going to do it.”
At this point, he says, he has nothing left to lose.

And that was KPBS Military Reporter Steve Walsh. This story was produced by the American Homefront Project, a public media collaboration that reports on American military life and veterans. Funding comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting

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Escondido Police have released the name of the man killed in last week's police shooting, along with the name of the officer who shot him. KPBS’ Jacob Aere has the new details.

The Escondido Police Department says 59-year old Steven Olson had been hitting cars with a 2-foot-long crowbar near the intersection of Broadway and Second Avenue when Officer Chad Moore approached him shortly after 7 a.m. on April 21st.
After the officer gave Olson multiple commands to drop the tool, the department said Olson continued to advance towards the officer, who was backing away. Olson was ultimately shot and killed by Officer Moore.
Police video of the incident still hasn’t been released. In a Monday news release, the Escondido Police Department said:
“It is anticipated that a critical incident video, which will include Body Worn Camera footage of the incident, will be released later this week.”
Escondido police say they were aware Olsen was living on the streets and he had previously been booked into county jail nearly 200 times since 2002 as well as being involved in more than 20 service calls this year.
Andrea Felix’s grandfather was friends with Olsen. She said Olson struggled with his cognitive abilities and mental health, but he was not a threatening presence.
“Steve was never aggressive, at least in front of me. He’s never been aggressive and to me he was harmless. The only thing I can say is Steve was not able to cognitively put together or articulate a complete sentence…
“It was very apparent that you knew he was mentally diabled or he had some type of mental illness.
Greg Anglea of Interfaith Services says the current system of having police officers address individuals in mental health crisis is a broken one.
“When somebody’s in a mental health crisis and they're experiencing homelessness, oftentime police are the only response a community has, in the moment. And it's just not fair to law enforcement and it's also not fair to the individuals in crisis to have that be the only option. We really need mental health professionals to also be there.”

And that was KPBS’ Jacob Aere.

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San Diego could become the first border county in the nation to do what immigration advocates have been asking for -- provide legal aid to immigrants facing deportation. KPBS Racial justice & Equity reporter Cristina Kim has more. She starts with County Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer.

ID: Terra Lawson-Remer, San Diego County Supervisor
“Everyone in this nation whether you are a citizen or not has an established right under the US Constitution to be represented by legal counsel.Today we are launching a movement to ensure that immigrants facing deportation have a fair day in court.”
CK: Lawson-Remer’s proposed program…. will help alleviate the current backlog of over one million cases waiting to be heard nationwide.
Michael Garcia … chief deputy at the Office of the Public Defender… whose office would oversee the program… says streamlining the court process makes fiscal sense.
ID: Michael Garcia, Office of The Public Defender
“As a border community we have a responsibility to make sure that that justice prevails in our adversarial immigration courts it’s the socially moral thing to do and at the same time it’s economically prudent for our businesses and our tax base.”
CK: Immigrants with legal counsel are ten times more likely to avoid deportation than those with no legal representation, according to a 2015 study.
It’s something Mustafe Hassan… a refugee from Ethiopia …. who was formally detained at the Otay Mesa Detention Center knows all too well. He was able to get legal help from Partners For Advancing New Americans.
ID: Mustafe Hassan, Refugee from Ethiopia
“Through that attorney and that help and that guidance that’s how I get my case succeeded that’s how I get my green card now or residential card. And now I am working and in good condition.”
The Supervisors will vote on whether to proceed with the proposal on May 4th. If it advances… the board will review it again during budget hearings in late June.
And that was KPBS Racial Justice and Equity reporter, Christina Kim.
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An abandoned theater in downtown San Diego is being redeveloped into apartments and a hotel. KPBS metro reporter Andrew Bowen says the City Council approved the project on Tuesday.

AB: The California Theatre at the corner of C Street and 4th Avenue has been vacant and deteriorating since 1990. Development firm Caydon plans on tearing it down and building a high rise with condos and a hotel. The theater's historic facade would also be reconstructed. Critics said the final project didn't have enough affordable housing. But councilmember Stephen Whitburn said the pros outweighed those concerns.
SW: It'll activate and revitalize this downtown transit corridor that is used by our city employees, by our local workforce, downtown residents and visitors to our great city.
AB: Construction is expected to be completed as soon as 2023. Andrew Bowen, KPBS news

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Tens of millions of dollars are still available for San Diegans struggling to pay rent, but many who need help the most, aren’t applying for it. KPBS reporter John Carroll has more.

Thanks to federal and state COVID relief programs, The San Diego Housing Commission has a lot of money available to help people struggling to pay rent… about $83,000,000.
CG: Azucena Valladolid/San Diego Housing Commission
“To provide past due rent, past due utilities and upcoming rental assistance.”
Azucena Valladolid is the Vice President of Rental Assistance for the San Diego Housing Commission. She’s very much aware of statistics like this…
Latinx people make up 57% of all renters in California, but only 35% have applied for rental assistance statewide.
“We are still looking at ways to improve the number of applications that we’re receiving, specifically from the Latino community.”
Valladolid says the Housing Commission is leaving no stone unturned with targeted outreach to the community.
1:37 - “Advertisements in English and in Spanish on both TV and radio” 1:42
1:52 - “Advertisements in Spanish community newspapers” 1:54
1:56 - “Spanish postcards to 170,000 households throughout the City of San Diego” 2:01
2:03 - “Spanish inserts in both the city public utilities department and SDG&E utility bills” 2:10
2:12 - “Posted advertisements on the MTS system” 2:15
2:27 - “We’ve even contracted with several community based organizations.” 2:30
One of those community organizations is the Chicano Federation. Nancy Maldonado is its President and CEO. I asked her what’s behind the hesitancy among many in the Latinx community to ask for rental assistance.
“Fear and mistrust is one concern, but I think there’s a variety of factors at play.”
Maldonado says plenty of renters in the community owe money, but many don’t owe it to their landlord.
CG: Nancy Maldonado/Chicano Federation President & CEO
“They either borrowed from friends and family or took out a loan or figured out a different way to come up with the money and pay their rent.”

That reporting from KPBS John Carroll. You can find out more about pandemic aid available locally by going to covid assistance dot S-D-H-C dot org.

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Coming up....

"There are a lot of people who have looked at this case from the outside and said there are flaws in the investigation there are holes in the investigation and there was problems with the methodology of the collection of the DNA."

A new book takes a look at the mysterious death of Rebecca Zahau at the Spreckles Mansion in Coronado. We’ll have that story next, just after the break.

It’s been almost 10 years since the mysterious death of 32-year old Rebecca Zahau at the Spreckles mansion in Coronado. A judge has recently agreed to hear arguments in a lawsuit the family has filed against the San Diego Sheriff's Department for documents that they believe will open a new investigation.

KPBS's Maya Trabulsi spoke with bestselling author and San Diego local Caitlin Rother, who has released a new book called “Death On Ocean Boulevard.” It details the circumstances surrounding the death and what went on behind the scenes.

And, a warning, the subject matter discusses suicide which may be disturbing to some listeners

Cailin Rother is author of the book, “Death on Ocean Boulevard”, the story of the death of Rebecca Zahau. She was speaking with KPBS’ Maya Trabulsi.

That’s it for the podcast today. Be sure to catch KPBS Midday Edition At Noon on KPBS radio, or check out the Midday podcast. You can also watch KPBS Evening Edition at 5 O’clock on KPBS Television, and as always you can find more San Diego news online at KPBS dot org. I’m Annica Colbert. Thanks for listening and have a great day.

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San Diego News Now

San Diego news; when you want it, where you want it. Get local stories on politics, education, health, environment, the border and more. New episodes are ready weekday mornings. Hosted by Anica Colbert and produced by KPBS, San Diego and the Imperial County's NPR and PBS station.