Courts & Crime

Navy photographer spurns deal, will spend July 4 in jail

A U.S. military veteran of Iraq and Guantánamo on Friday spurned a government offer of pre-trial probation and instead faced the prospect of the Fourth of July in a Miami lockup while awaiting a federal passport fraud trial later this month.

Navy Reserves Petty Officer 2nd Class Elisha Leo Dawkins, 26, has been confined to the downtown federal detention center since soon after he returned from the Guantánamo detention center earlier this year.

There he served as a Navy photographer, chronicling the lives of war-on-terror captives, apparently unaware that the U.S. immigration service had targeted him for deportation to his mother’s native Bahamas when he was 8 years old.

Before Guantánamo he enlisted in the Army and served in Iraq, in 2007, and came home to an honorable discharge.

“He’s an American soldier,” said Clark Mervis, Dawkins’ court-appoint attorney. “He’s going to be in an American jail on the Fourth of July under circumstances that are unjust. He fought for this country.”

Federal prosecutors indicted and then put out an arrest warrant on Dawkins earlier this year while he was working as one of Guantánamo’s most prolific public affairs photographers — capturing intimate images of the captives in the prison camps, celebrities and fellow soldiers.

His alleged offense: He failed to report in a 2006 State Department application for a passport that he had earlier started the process of applying in 2003.

It’s a felony. Conviction is punishable by as much as 10 years in prison. Dawkins’ case is complicated by the fact that he may not be an American citizen. The charge surfaced a two-decade-old Immigration Service case that ordered Dawkins’ deportation, at age 8, with his mother to the Bahamas.

Instead, his lawyer said, the young man stayed behind in Miami, and was raised by relatives believing he was a U.S. citizen.

And he may be. At age 21, Dawkins obtained a delayed State of Florida birth certificate indicating he was born in Miami-Dade County. He’s also been a registered Florida voter since 2002.

The veteran’s plight has caught the attention of Democratic Rep. Federica Wilson of Miami because Dawkins went to elementary and high school and played sports in her district before joining the Army. Florida Sen. Bill Nelson, also a Democrat, has been asking questions, too, because the case illustrates dysfunctional communications between federal agencies, which were supposed to be repaired after the 9/11 attacks.

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