U.S. Contractor Fired On Iraqi Vehicles for Sport, Suit Alleges
Friday, November 17, 2006
A man who worked in Iraq for a Herndon-based security company is accused in a lawsuit of firing twice into Iraqi civilian vehicles last summer without provocation, possibly killing at least one person.
Two co-workers who witnessed the shootings say in the suit that there has been no investigation, even though they reported the incidents.
All three men worked for Triple Canopy, a corporation formed in 2003 by former military men to provide security in the Middle East for the United States government and private companies. Triple Canopy was the ninth-largest contractor for the U.S. State Department in fiscal 2005, with payments totaling more than $90 million, government records show.
That sum does not include what Triple Canopy is paid by private firms such as KBR, formerly Kellogg, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton Co. that is involved in rebuilding in Iraq. Former Army Ranger Shane Schmidt, former Marine Charles L. Sheppard III and their shift leader were all working on an assignment for KBR when the shootings occurred near Baghdad on July 8, alleges the suit, filed in Fairfax County Circuit Court.
Schmidt and Sheppard say they reported the shootings to Triple Canopy. Instead of investigating, the men allege, Triple Canopy fired them and prevented their being hired by other companies in the Middle East. The lawsuit alleges wrongful termination and wrongful interference with their professional future.
Triple Canopy and KBR declined comment on the suit. Defense Department officials did not respond to numerous inquiries, and State Department officials said they were unaware of the incidents that are being alleged.
Schmidt and Sheppard allege that Triple Canopy did not report the shootings to KBR or the government. They say that no one has ever contacted them about the shootings.
In court papers, Triple Canopy has not denied that the incidents occurred. The company has tried to have the case dismissed on the grounds that no violation of Virginia law occurred and that Schmidt and Sheppard were "at-will" employees and could be fired for any reason.
At a hearing last month, Fairfax Circuit Court Judge M. Langhorne Keith said the state's "at-will" legal doctrine has exceptions, including "when people allege that they reported a murder, two murders or maybe more than two murders, conducted by a fellow employee, and were fired for making that report."
The lawsuit does not name the person accused of the shootings, a shift leader. Schmidt and Sheppard's attorney, Patricia A. Smith of Alexandria, declined to name the man. The case is scheduled to go to trial July 30.
Smith said Schmidt and Sheppard were not available for interviews yesterday. Schmidt lives in Herndon, and Sheppard resides in Destin, Fla. Both have private security jobs in this country, far removed from the high-adrenaline, $500-a-day work they did for years in Iraq and Afghanistan, Smith said.
Schmidt was a Marine from 1995 to 2003 and was one of the first Marines deployed to Afghanistan, Smith said. He began working for Triple Canopy in Iraq in 2004.