Get PolitiFact in your inbox.

Douglas Debrs prays by a makeshift memorial outside the Armed Forces Career Center on Friday, July 17, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski) Douglas Debrs prays by a makeshift memorial outside the Armed Forces Career Center on Friday, July 17, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

Douglas Debrs prays by a makeshift memorial outside the Armed Forces Career Center on Friday, July 17, 2015, in Chattanooga, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

Lauren Carroll
By Lauren Carroll August 4, 2015

Is a Navy officer who shot at the Chattanooga shooter facing charges?

The story about what’s happening to a Navy officer "will make your blood boil," professes a Aug. 1 headline on the blog of former Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., a retired Army lieutenant colonel

It stems from the July 16, 2015, shooting in Chattanooga, in which a gunman, Muhammad Abdulazeez, began firing at two military facilities, killing four Marines and a Navy sailor. During the onslaught, the commanding officer at the Navy Operational Support Center in Chattanooga used his personal firearm to fire back at Abdulazeez, according to Navy leaders and the officer himself.

While some supporters are circulating a petition to honor the actions of the officer, Lt. Cmdr. Timothy White, West said that the Navy is prosecuting him for using his gun.

"Ladies and gents, resulting from the text message I received yesterday, I can confirm that the United States Navy is bringing charges against Lt. Cmdr. Timothy White for illegally discharging a firearm on federal property," West wrote.

And West wasn’t the only political figure raising the alarm. Democratic presidential candidate Jim Webb, former secretary of the Navy, also tweeted that he had heard the same thing.

"Navy charging LCDR Tim White w/ a crime for trying to defend our sailors & Marines in #Chattanooga? He deserves a medal, not an indictment," Webb tweeted. He later added, "The charge being considered is illegally discharging a firearm on federal property."

Many readers asked us to look into the claims in West’s blog, which was the source for other posts that proliferated on the Internet. So we took a closer look.

Unsubstantiated rumors

For the record, the Navy has issued a full denial that they have charged or are planning to charge White with any crime related to the Chattanooga shooting incident, both in posts on Facebook and an interview with PolitiFact.

"I can tell you definitively it’s not true," Navy spokesman Lieutenant Junior Grade Johnny Michael told PolitiFact.

Michael said an investigation into all aspects of the shooting is under way and is far from finished, so no charges are pending or even being seriously considered at this point.

"(Prosecution) is not in the works. We have no plans to press charges," Michael said, declining to speculate further about the course of the investigation.

We reached out to White to ask him ourselves, but we didn’t hear back. There are only a handful of media reports on this question, and most of those include a statement from the Navy saying the rumor is false.

So how did these rumors start?

Webb said on Twitter that he "confirmed with a defense official." West’s blog said he considered the charges confirmed when he received a text message from an unidentified person asking if West could meet with White.

We reached out to West for clarification. Through a spokesperson at the National Center for Policy Analysis -- a conservative think tank where he is the CEO -- West deferred comment to Navy officials and White’s attorney, though he did not name the attorney.

The blog also linked to an article from a conservative website, Western Journalism, that said White could in theory be punished for violating a policy (not a law) that says only certain employees can carry firearms at military sites. The Western Journalism article does not say that White is facing any criminal charges or other punishment.

It’s also worth noting a difference between this policy about carrying firearms at a military site and the potential charges that West and Webb said White would face: illegally discharging a weapon on federal property. There is a federal law that says people are not allowed to use or carry weapons on federal facilities. There is an exemption for some members of the military regarding their ability to carry weapons on federal property, though we don’t know if White fell under this exemption.

Our ruling

West wrote that the Navy "is bringing charges against" a Navy officer who shot at the Chattanooga shooter "for illegally discharging a firearm on federal property."

Certainly no charges were filed at the time West wrote his blog post, and none have been filed to date. To the contrary, the Navy has said that it has "no plans to press charges," and we have found no credible reporting to call the Navy’s official statement into question. We rate this claim False.

Our Sources blog, "What’s happening to this heroic Navy officer from the Chattanooga shooting will make your blood BOIL," Aug. 1, 2015

Snopes, "Navy Commander to Be Charged for Returning Fire Against Chattanooga Gunman?" Aug. 2, 2015

Twitchy, "Jim Webb says Lt. Cmdr. Timothy White will face charges for ‘illegally discharging a firearm’ during Chattanooga attack; Update: Navy denies," Aug. 2, 2015

Navy, Facebook post, Aug. 1, 2015

Chattanooga Times Free Press, "Navy: Officer has not been charged for firing personal weapon at Chattanooga gunman," Aug. 3, 2015

Chattanooga Times Free Press, "Navy officer confirms he shot at Abdulazeez with his personal weapon," July 31, 2015

Western Journalism, "Revealed: Navy Officer Did Something Heroic During Chattanooga Shooting, But May Be PUNISHED For It," July 22, 2015

PolitiFact Florida, "Jeb Bush says a law passed under Bill Clinton banned guns at military recruiting offices," July 21, 2015

Interview, Navy Lt. Junior Grade Johnny Michael, Aug. 3, 2015

Interview, Navy Lt. Timothy Hawkins, Aug. 3, 2015

Email interview, NCPA spokeswoman Caytie Daniell, Aug. 3, 2015

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Lauren Carroll

Is a Navy officer who shot at the Chattanooga shooter facing charges?

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up