Wednesday, June 29, 2022
HomeNewsState Department remains silent on Tanzanian Peace Corps employee who killed woman

State Department remains silent on Tanzanian Peace Corps employee who killed woman


Peace Corps officials have for months been dealing with the fallout from revelations that an agency employee killed a woman in Africa in 2019 during reckless driving that began after he went to a bar and picked up a sex worker.

The top federal agency leader pledged to explore reforms and acknowledged the “pain, anger and sadness” the incident had caused. Former Peace Corps volunteers rallied to support the deceased woman’s children, with many saying they were ashamed of their service. And the agency’s internal watchdog began quietly vetting the former employee for the second time, looking for a history of hiring sex workers overseas.

Meanwhile, another federal agency involved in what some have called the most shameful part of the incident – arranging a medical evacuation for the man that took place before Tanzanian authorities could charge him – avoided almost any scrutiny.

Rabia Issa’s relatives kept a photocopy of John Peterson’s driver’s license, which they say the police gave them after Issa’s death.
Peter Mgongo for USA TODAY

US State Department officials have refused to release any information about the fatal incident caused by John M. Peterson, who at the time was a high-ranking Peace Corps employee in Tanzania. The agency, in response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act, recently said it had no records showing internal communications about the case.

Still, USA TODAY found that agency staff had been closely involved, including helping arrange for Peterson’s departure from the country and investigating the incident alongside the Office of the Inspector General of the Peace Corps. Peace Corps CEO Carol Spahn, speaking in January on the medical evacuation process for a Peace Corps employee overseas, said the State Department made the call.

“Peace Corps Direct Hire employees working overseas fall under the Department of State for their medical care. As such, medical evacuation decisions are made by the State Department,” Spahn said, according to prepared remarks released by the agency.

When asked for details about the incident and the department’s response, a State Department spokesperson wrote, “For confidentiality reasons, we have no additional details to share at this time. .” Mike Pompeo, who was US Secretary of State in President Trump’s administration at the time of the incident, declined through a spokesperson to answer any questions, including whether he had been briefed. of the case.

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Capitol Hill on April 21, 2021.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Capitol Hill on April 21, 2021.
Joshua Roberts/Getty Images

A Peace Corps spokeswoman, asked about the State Department’s involvement in the case, wrote, “We have no further comment.

Peterson sparked a chaotic scene that unfolded on the streets of Tanzania’s capital, Dar es Salaam, after he drank at a bar and brought a sex worker home, according to agency records and interviews with insiders. sources close to the accident. consequences. As he was carrying the sex worker back to where he had picked her up, Peterson struck and injured a bystander. According to the Peace Corps Inspector General, bystanders pelted Peterson’s car with rocks and he fled. In a sharp turn, it rammed and killed Rabia Issa, a mother of three who was setting up a roadside food stall.

TOP: Rabia Issa’s family lives in the Msasani neighborhood of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. BOTTOM: Rabia Issa’s headstone in a cemetery in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
TOP: Rabia Issa’s family lives in the Msasani neighborhood of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. BOTTOM: Rabia Issa’s headstone in a cemetery in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
LEFT: Rabia Issa’s family lives in Msasani neighborhood in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. RIGHT: Rabia Issa’s headstone in a cemetery in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Peterson was taken to a police station and then released for medical treatment, according to the inspector general. He was on a plane out of the country the same day, records show. The inspector general, in a brief summary of events sent to Congress last year, said the medical evacuation was arranged by the Peace Corps and the US Embassy, ​​but provided no further details. on the decision.

Peterson’s attorney, Mark Zaid, told USA TODAY the decision to evacuate Peterson from Tanzania was standard procedure, but he declined to describe Peterson’s specific injuries or say why those injuries needed to be treated in the states. -United.

“Mr. Peterson suffered serious injuries after being physically attacked by the mob after the accident,” Zaid said in an email. “Even after several months of physiotherapy, he was unable to repair the damage.”

A former director of the State Department’s medical office said evacuations are based on medical information, but a variety of factors could influence a decision. In general, medical personnel have wide latitude to evacuate American workers if “appropriate care is not available,” he said.

“My philosophy was really to take no chances with medical evacuations,” said Charles Rosenfarb, the State Department’s medical director until 2018.

The United States had been without an ambassador in Tanzania for nearly three years at the time of the crash. Inmi Patterson, who as Chargé d’Affaires was the top official at the US Embassy, ​​declined to comment when contacted by USA TODAY. She abruptly quit her job in 2020 after drawing criticism from the Tanzanian government because the embassy issued a travel warning about the spread of COVID-19.

“At the time of the incident of interest to you, I was acting in an official capacity as an employee of the Department of State,” Patterson said in an email. “I suggest you direct any questions you may have to his representatives.”

The Peace Corps placed Peterson on administrative leave following his medical evacuation to the United States, where he continued to collect a paycheck during the investigation. Records show he resigned in February 2021, a year and a half after killing Issa.

The Peace Corps Headquarters is seen in Washington.The Peace Corps Headquarters is seen in Washington.
The Peace Corps Headquarters is seen in Washington.
Jack Gruber, USA TODAY

The Peace Corps Inspector General and the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service Office of Special Investigations jointly investigated the incident. Yaneth Pena, spokesperson for the Peace Corps watchdog, said in an email that the two offices have “overlapping jurisdiction” because Peace Corps employees working overseas fall under the authority of the head of mission, the most senior diplomat of each American embassy.

“No leads have been established on this case, we have all worked collaboratively,” Pena said of the investigation into Peterson, adding that the agencies together presented the findings to the Department of Justice.

The Justice Department declined to prosecute, citing a lack of jurisdiction.

Last month, USA TODAY reported that an investigator from the Office of the Inspector General of the Peace Corps recently investigated Peterson again, including sending an investigator to Dar es Salaam to interview his former colleagues. A member of US Embassy security personnel was present for at least one of those conversations, according to a former Peace Corps employee who was interviewed, indicating that the State Department remains involved in the matter.

Despite the State Department’s undisputed role in responding to Peterson’s actions, an agency public records officer told USA TODAY last month that staff had “conducted a search and found no records” related to the incident. ‘incident. USA TODAY filed a formal appeal, and the agency agreed to conduct another search. He has not yet provided any documents.

Radd Sieger, spokesperson for Harry Dunn’s family
I think the calculation they make is that these families will not be able to do anything about it. And tomorrow will be yesterday’s news.

The case is not the only one in which the State Department has been criticized for not disclosing details of a US citizen’s actions abroad. Three days after Peterson killed Issa, the wife of a State Department employee who was driving on the wrong side of the road in the UK struck and killed 19-year-old motorcyclist Harry Dunn. The woman, Anne Sacoolas, left the country and the US government refused to extradite her to face charges, saying she was protected from prosecution under an agreement known as diplomatic immunity. .

Radd Seiger, a spokesman for Dunn’s family, said he contacted State Department officials several times but never heard back.

“The playbook I’ve seen is, over and over and over, just a stone wall,” Seiger said. “I think the calculation they are making is that these families will not be able to do anything about it. And tomorrow will be yesterday’s news.

More in this seriesMore in this series

A Peace Corps worker killed a woman. The United States took him home.

The backlash swells over the role of Peace Corps workers in death in Africa.

The Peace Corps is investigating whether the ex-employee had a history with sex workers.

Tricia L. Nadolny and Nick Penzenstadler are reporters for USA TODAY. Tricia can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @TriciaNadolny. Nick can be reached at [email protected], on Twitter at @npenzenstadler or on Signal at 720-507-5273.

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