Alan Gourgue, a former corporal in the Marine Corps, is suing the military for an alleged administrative mistake that cost him a job, a month of his life and endangered his family's security.
Gourgue, 27, had served in the Marines for four years until receiving an honorable discharge in September 2006. As part of his release, Gourgue was required to remain in reserve status until 2010. Gourgue, and his lawyer, William Halsey, told NBC News that he was never contacted during that time to return to duty. Gourgue's reserve service ended on September 10, 2010, according to his lawsuit.
But on January 22, 2011, Gourgue was stopped by New Orleans police for a traffic violation, and was then arrested on a federal warrant for being a deserter of the Marine Corps. Within days, Gourgue was picked up by "chasers" who took him into custody and flew him to Camp Pendleton in California for a month-long detainment.
During that time, Gourgue lost his job as a clerk at a hotel in Baton Rouge. His wife, then 27 weeks pregnant and planning to take maternity leave, continued to work while Gourgue was detained. She returned to her job six weeks after a Cesarian section to ensure the family could pay its bills.
Gourgue still has trouble coming to terms with what happened.
"I felt like I wasn’t part of the military anymore," he said. "For something I didn’t even do — they can treat me any way they want to." He said that while at Camp Pendleton, cleaning latrines and barracks, he did not harbor a grudge: "I knew the whole story wasn’t out there."
First lieutenant Eric Flanagan, a spokesman for the Marine Corps, told NBC News that he could not comment on the case because of ongoing litigation.
Gourgue's lawsuit states that while at Camp Pendleton, he was told he allegedly deserted a reserve unit in December 2008. Eventually, in late February, he was advised that the "detention was based on an administrative error." He was released and returned to Louisiana on February 26, 2011.
The detainment started a chain of events from which Gourgue is still trying to recover.
He missed the court date in Louisiana for his traffic violation, which resulted in a $339 fine, according to the suit. He applied for unemployment but was denied at first because his termination was seen as having cause. Gourgue's family relocated to Oceanside, Calif., so that he could enroll in a certification course for auto mechanics, but arrived without savings, having already spent what little they had.
"We started living paycheck to paycheck," he said. "To this day I’m trying to play catch up."
Gourgue and his lawyer filed a tort against the Navy in September 2011, requesting $500,000 in damages resulting from the detention. (All cases against the Marine Corps are brought against the Department of the Navy.)
The claim was denied by the Navy, which cited federal immunity from torts "arising out of false arrest and false imprisonment."
Gourgue's plane ticket back to Louisiana was paid for, but he allegedly received no compensation for the lost wages or work he performed while detained. Had Gourgue still been an active duty Marine, Halsey said, he would have been entitled to wages earned during that period.
"They did not offer him a single penny," said Halsey, who specializes in military cases. As a result "we had no alternative other than to file a lawsuit."
Gourgue said that despite the lawsuit, he still holds the Marines in high regard. Several sergeants and staff sergeants, upon learning of the case's circumstances, offered Gourgue advice and support. A lieutenant colonel even offered an apology for his detainment, according to Gourgue.
Gourgue hopes the lawsuit and his demand for a jury trial will demonstrate "how somebody can lose their freedom and everything they’ve worked for with just a couple seconds of their life."
"I want to be compensated for everything that I lost."
Rebecca Ruiz is a reporter at NBC News. Follow her on Twitter here.
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