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Security Contractor Cleared in Two Firings

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By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 2, 2007

A Herndon-based private security company did not wrongly fire two employees who reported seeing their supervisor randomly shoot into two Iraqi civilian vehicles in Baghdad last year, a Fairfax County jury ruled yesterday. But the jury also issued a harshly worded note criticizing the company's actions.

Former Marine Shane B. Schmidt and former Army Ranger Charles L. Sheppard III worked for Triple Canopy Inc., a 4-year-old company with extensive security contracts in the Middle East for the U.S. government and private companies. The two men acknowledged waiting two days before reporting the shootings, and Triple Canopy said the delay was a serious policy violation that caused their firings.

"Although we find for [Triple Canopy]," jury forewoman Lea C. Overby wrote, "we strongly feel that its poor conduct, lack of standard reporting procedures, bad investigation methods and unfair double standards amongst employees should not be condoned." Overby wrote that the jury instructions from Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Jonathan C. Thacher forced them to rule against Schmidt and Sheppard, but "we do not agree with Triple Canopy's treatment of the plaintiffs."

Triple Canopy issued a statement last night, saying it was pleased with the verdict and regretted the jury's criticism. "Triple Canopy is willing to accept this criticism," the company said, "in order to enforce its standards and discipline personnel who engage in, and/or fail to timely report serious misconduct.''

Patricia A. Smith, the attorney for Schmidt and Sheppard, said an appeal was likely after the jury's note said the "jury instructions were obviously confusing." She said that her clients would have violated Virginia law if they had not reported a crime to Triple Canopy and that the company "wanted to cover up that their supervisor committed multiple homicides."

No determination was ever made that anyone was wounded or killed in either shooting.

Schmidt and Sheppard were working for a private client, Kellogg Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, when they went to the Baghdad airport July 8, 2006.

Schmidt and Sheppard said their supervisor, Jacob Washbourne, declared that he was "going to kill someone today." They alleged that Washbourne fired several shots into a stopped truck without provocation.

On the return from the airport, Schmidt and Sheppard said Washbourne took out his pistol and fired multiple rounds into the windshield of a taxi. Schmidt and Sheppard said Washbourne told them not to report the incidents or he would get them fired.

Schmidt and Sheppard said they delayed reporting the shootings because they feared Washbourne, who left the country the next day, and they wanted to keep their jobs. Soon after, Triple Canopy fired them -- and Washbourne -- for failing to report the incidents immediately.

Schmidt and Sheppard sued Triple Canopy for wrongful termination.

Paul T. Hourihan, an attorneyfor Triple Canopy, said the men's failure to report the shootings promptly put others at risk and made investigating them virtually impossible. He said that if they had reported Washbourne after the first shooting, the second shooting might not have happened.

Hourihan said Triple Canopy management decided that Schmidt and Sheppard could not be trusted and that the company wouldn't have fired them if it had wanted to cover up the incidents, which Triple Canopy says it reported to the Army.

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