Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer Adam C. Matthews was dressed like Rambo.
He was at a party in January at the annual SHOT (Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade) show—America’s annual firearms trade show—in Las Vegas. This year’s theme was the ’80s, and Matthews’ costume was ironic because the character made famous by Sylvester Stallone was a Vietnam-era Special Forces soldier, not a SEAL.
At the party, he met Michelle Melgar, the widow of Army Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar, the man he and other service members were accused of hazing to death in Mali in 2017. A friend of Melgar, who was at the show, said Matthews approached the widow and asked if she was lost. Matthews told her his name was Mike and that he was a “DEVGRU” guy, a term for SEAL Team Six.
“He knew who he was talking to,” said Melgar’s friend, who was with her in Las Vegas.
Matthews also told Michelle Melgar “the guys” in Mali with her husband were “good guys” and that his death was an accident, the friend said.
“It wasn’t really murder,” Matthews said.
Prosecutors disagree. They charged Matthews and three other members of the military with murder in connection with Melgar’s death, although he and one other defendant pleaded guilty to lesser charges.
At the party in Vegas, Matthews and Michelle Melgar exchanged numbers before he told her he was with SEAL Team Six. The next day, she got texts from him asking to use her room for a nap. The Daily Beast reviewed those text messages.
“What’s your living situation?” Matthews wrote.
“I have a room,” Melgar said.
“Can I come nap? Im (sic) dying,” Matthews wrote.
Melgar declined to let Matthews come to her room; although she was unaware of his real identity, he was still a SEAL. A special operations soldier who was at the show and was familiar with the events said Matthews was ordered to leave Melgar alone in a text message.
“This is a friend of Mrs. Melgar,” wrote a Green Beret who was with the widow at the show. “She doesn’t have visibility on this. Read carefully and heed this message. You will lose her number and will not contact her again. You’re (sic) sentiment may be from a place of loyalty; however, in this situation it is completely inappropriate and unbecoming of a member of our community. This is a black mark in the SEAL community and your efforts are keeping the wound open. Do not contact her again. Actions have consequences.”
Despite the warning, Matthews tried to get in touch with Melgar again.
“Well, I think we should sit down somewhere private before the craziness begins tonight,” he wrote.
“Things are extremely strange right now. That was an unbelievable coincidence last night, but I hope you understand that I only wanted to talk to you. I have/had no intent otherwise as soon as I found out your background. I sincerely apologize for any misunderstanding.”
Melgar never met with Matthews again and blocked his number, according to sources familiar with the incident. Several weeks after Melgar returned to her home at Fort Bragg, she asked prosecutors for pictures of Matthews and SEAL Chief Special Warfare Operator Anthony DeDolph. When she got them, she recognized Matthews immediately, according to her friend.
Melgar told prosecutors about the meeting and Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) opened an investigation. NCIS would not confirm or deny the existence of the investigation. A spokesman said Monday the agency does not comment on investigations. Sources familiar with the case said the incident was brought to the attention of all parties in the case, but it didn’t derail Matthews’ plea agreement.
Five months later, Matthews, 33, pleaded guilty to hazing and assault charges and attempts to cover up what happened to Melgar. He was sentenced to one year in military prison as part of the plea agreement. In June, Marine Raider Staff Sgt. Kevin Maxwell, 29, was sentenced to four years of confinement after pleading guilty in connection with Sgt. Melgar’s death.
It’s unclear why Matthews was allowed to leave Virginia Beach, where his team was based, to attend the Vegas show. The Navy declined to comment about the ongoing investigation, Beth Baker, a Navy spokeswoman said. Matthews’ attorney, Grover Baxley, did not return calls, an email, or text message seeking comment.
An ongoing disagreement between Logan Melgar and DeDolph sparked the fatal hazing, a source familiar with the episode told The Daily Beast last year.
Sources said the safe house where Melgar and the SEALs were based was like a “frat house.” Marine Raider Staff Sgt. Kevin Maxwell, who was based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., and was part of the joint operation, testified that when Melgar ditched the team on his way to a party at the French Embassy, they hatched a plan to haze him.
During his sentencing in May, Matthews said he, along with DeDolph, Maxwell, and Marine Raider Gunnery Sgt. Mario Madera-Rodriguez, broke into Melgar’s room in the house they shared in Bamako and hazed him, which led to his death. At one point, Matthews said, DeDolph applied a choke hold on Melgar and he became unresponsive.
“I've carried the weight of Staff Sgt. Melgar's death every minute of every day since that night in Mali,” Matthews said at the sentencing, according to an Associated Press report.
DeDolph and Madera-Rodriguez still face murder, involuntary manslaughter, conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and hazing charges. Their trials have not been scheduled.