Navy sailor charged with stealing grenades from San Diego warship

SAN DIEGO — A Navy man from Illinois was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of stealing 20 hand grenades from the guided-missile destroyer USS Pinckney while serving aboard the San Diego-based ship.

Naval Criminal Investigative Service personnel took Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Aaron Booker into custody Tuesday morning at his duty post near Chicago.

Following his arraignment Tuesday morning, the 31-year-old serviceman is scheduled to appear for a detention hearing in the Northern District of Illinois before being transferred to San Diego to face trial in the case, authorities said.

Sailors aboard the Pinckney discovered the grenades missing last year during a routine inventory of explosives. Booker, previously a member of the ship’s weapons department, performed temperature checks of the storage crates containing the munitions on five occasions between November 2016 and January 2017, according to prosecutors.

Booker officially detached from the vessel in February 2017, at which point he left San Diego and drove to Naval Station Great Lakes to begin his new assignment.

Two months later, an off-duty police officer came across a black military-issue backpack leaning against a guardrail alongside Interstate 15 in northwest Arizona. In addition to a tag with “GM2 BOOKER” handwritten on it, the bag contained 18 of the grenades that went missing from USS Pinckney, court documents state.

According to a complaint in the case, Booker acknowledged to investigators that he traveled on that stretch of freeway before reporting to his new duty station in early March 2017. He provided conflicting statements, however, as to whether he had seen or touched the stolen explosive devices.

“A backpack full of grenades on the side of the road is obviously extremely dangerous and could have had resulted in injuries or death,” San Diego-area U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman said. “The theft of explosives is a very serious offense, particularly if it is carried out by an insider with access to military weapons and secrets.”

If convicted on a federal charge of possessing stolen explosives, Booker will face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Authorities are still searching for the two grenades from the Pinckney that remain unaccounted for, according to court documents.