Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Afghanistan: Contractor Sentenced to 37 Months in Prison for Death of Afghan National in Kabul

Office of Public Affairs
Washington, D.C.

Christopher Drotleff, 31, of Virginia Beach, Va., was sentenced to 37 months in prison for his role in shooting and killing an Afghan national while on an unauthorized convoy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on May 5, 2009, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Neil H. MacBride of the Eastern District of Virginia and James W. McJunkin, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office. U.S. District Judge Robert G. Doumar also ordered Drotleff to serve three years of supervised release following his prison term.

On March 11, 2011, Drotleff and Justin Cannon, 29, of Corpus Christi, Texas, were convicted of involuntary manslaughter while working as contractors for the U.S. Department of Defense in Afghanistan. Cannon and Drotleff were acquitted of other charges, including second-degree murder, assault resulting in serious bodily injury and firearms offenses. Cannon is scheduled to be sentenced on June 27, 2011.

“Mr. Drotleff’s criminal conduct led to a tragic loss of innocent life,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer. “We hope that today’s sentence will bring some measure of comfort to the victims’ families. Reckless violence by those who are employed by our armed forces abroad endangers the lives of innocent civilians and undermines the trust that our international partners have placed in our military efforts. Mr. Drotleff’s conduct stands in stark contrast to the actions of the many brave men and women who serve this country honorably.”

“Christopher Drotleff recklessly fired his nine millimeter pistol at unarmed Afghan civilians, killing two people and shattering the lives of many more,” said U.S. Attorney MacBride. “General Petraeus reminded us that Mr. Drotleff’s senseless killing not only took innocent lives but also seriously harmed our mission in Afghanistan and put the lives of American military and civilians in danger. The jury’s verdict and today’s sentence shows that no one is above the law – even in a combat zone – and that the reckless use of force will be punished.”

“International investigations are very complex, frequently dangerous and take a tremendous amount of dedication and effort on the part of our Special Agents,” said Assistant Director in Charge McJunkin of the FBI’s Washington Field Office. “The FBI in general and the Washington Field Office in particular, is both willing and able to deploy anywhere in the world to investigate violations of U.S. law no matter where they occur or who commits them.”

Cannon and Drotleff were charged under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA) in a superseding indictment filed on Aug. 5, 2010. Cannon and Drotleff were Department of Defense contractors employed by a subsidiary of Xe (formerly known as Blackwater Worldwide).

According to evidence presented at trial, on May 5, 2009, both men left their military base without authorization to transport local interpreters. The evidence at trial established that, after the lead vehicle in the convoy crashed and was overturned on the side of the road, Cannon and Drotleff fired multiple shots into the back of a civilian car that had attempted to pass the accident scene. The passenger of the car was fatally shot and the driver was seriously injured. An individual who happened to be walking his dog in the area was also killed in the shooting. The jury found the defendants guilty of involuntary manslaughter for the death of Romal Mohammad Naiem, the front-seat passenger. They were acquitted of charges relating to the death of the person walking his dog and injuries to the driver.

According to court records, as contractors, Cannon and Drotleff provided training to the Afghan National Army for the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in the use and maintenance of weapons and weapons systems.

The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Robert McGovern of the Criminal Division’s Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Randy C. Stoker and Alan M. Salsbury from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia - Norfolk Division. The case was investigated by the FBI’s Washington Field Office and the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command.