(Tribune News Service) — A retired Air Force veteran in Santa Barbara County has filed a lawsuit against Vandenberg Space Force Base, accusing its commander of denying him access to the installation last year over a 30-year-old child molestation conviction, according to federal court documents.
In a lawsuit filed May 12 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, 75-year-old plaintiff Joseph Simonson accused Col. Robert A. Long, commanding officer of Vandenberg SFB, for denying access over the 1992 conviction.
Additionally, Simonson said Long denied access to “constitutionally” protected retirement benefits by preventing physical access to the base and without providing notice, according to the filing.
Simonson seeks a judgment giving him access to the base, attorneys’ fees and “other relief the court deems just and proper,” the lawsuit states.
Defendants in the lawsuit include Long, who is the current commanding officer of Space Launch Delta 30, which controls the base, and at least 10 unidentified John Does.
A spokeswoman for Space Launch Delta 30 did not comment on the lawsuit and referred to Vandenberg personnel at the main gate, who stated that expired retiree cards are usually the only reason why those veterans are denied access. An individual’s ban is base-specific, meaning that the retiree could access another installation, according to base personnel.
The complaint stems from an incident at the base in October 2021, when Vandenberg personnel informed Simonson that he was no longer permitted to enter the base for any purpose, even for medical treatment for a recent diabetes diagnosis, according to court records.
Documents show Simonson attempted to enter the base for a medical appointment but was denied by Vandenberg security forces personnel, who told him that he was not allowed on base due to his “presence on California’s sex offender registry” for the conviction he received four years after retiring from the military.
Simonson said that he is a Vietnam War-era Air Force officer who retired at the rank of major and that his conviction had nothing to do with his military service.
In addition, Simonson said he had base access for nearly 30 years without incident after his conviction and even worked there as a defense contractor from 2005 until he retired in 2014, while holding a “secret” security clearance during that time, court records show.
Records also show that since retiring, Simonson had relied on access to Vandenberg Space Force Base, where he routinely purchased gasoline, clothing, groceries and obtained prescription drugs.
“Because many of these benefits are available only on military bases, retired service members must have physical access to those bases in order to obtain and exercise these benefits,” according to Janice Bellucci, his attorney. “This is particularly true of medical and dental care, for which ‘direct care’ is provided only at on-base military treatment facilities.”
“As for many years, [Simonson’s] access to Vandenberg SFB also became [his] most meaningful social outlet in retirement,” according to Bellucci.
Defendants have 60 days to respond to the lawsuit, according to records.