SPC. Vanessa Guillen’s family is suing the military over her death at Fort Hood

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Spec’s family. Vanessa Guillén, the Fort Hood soldier who was sexually harassed, killed and dismembered while serving at the Texas base, is suing the military for ‘the nightmare she had to endure while serving,’ her attorney says .

According to a lawsuit filed Friday, Guillén’s family is seeking $35 million from the Department of the Army after they “suffered mental anguish, fear, emotional distress, physical injury, and death as a result of sexual harassment, rape, sodomy and physical assault”. between October 1, 2019 and April 22, 2020. The family is seeking $10 million for wrongful death and $25 million for personal injury two years after Guillén, 20, was killed by a fellow soldier, a death that has helped press the military to investigate how he handles missing members.

On April 22, 2020, Spec. Aaron Robinson fatally bludgeoned Guillén with a hammer at the Texas facility, investigators said. He then dismembered and buried his remains with the help of a girlfriend, Cecily Aguilar. The remains were discovered on June 30, when investigators focused on Robinson as a suspect. He later committed suicide when police tried to apprehend him in the nearby town of Killeen. A federal grand jury indicted Aguilar on 11 counts, including conspiracy to falsify documents or proceedings and three counts of accessory after the fact.

The Ministry of Defense said in a statement on Tuesday that “as a matter of principle, the ministry does not comment on ongoing litigation.”

Guillén’s death sparked a series of disciplinary actions and waves of protests calling for a change in how the military deals with sexual assault allegations. More than 20 soldiers, including a general and other officers, were punished and some were suspended.

Army fires, suspends leaders after systemic failures at Fort Hood, officials say

The lawsuit follows a ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit that said the Feres Doctrine, which prohibits injured service members on active duty from suing the federal government, does not cover sexual assault.

This court got it right, Natalie Khawam, the lawyer for the Guillén family who filed the lawsuit last week, told The Washington Post.

“The Department of Defense wrongly applied Feres for years,” she said. “Any victim of sexual assault can now pursue a case.”

In a statement attached to the lawsuit, Guillén’s sister, Mayra Guillén, said she began noticing differences in her younger sister’s behavior in January 2020.

Guillén was less cheerful, more desperate than usual, and she later confided in their mother about the sexual harassment and bullying she said she suffered from superiors.

Mayra Guillén said her younger sister pleaded with their mother not to intervene because Guillén feared retaliation for speaking out about the harassment, according to the court document.

Among the allegations in Mayra Guillén’s statement was that her sister’s superior had solicited her for sex in September 2019. Another soldier reported Guillén’s alleged harassment, leading to the retaliation she feared and causing suicidal thoughts.

“ARMY must be held accountable for its wrongdoings, the way it conducted its early investigations, the way Vanessa was treated, the nightmare she had to endure serving and only trying to serve his country and his family”, wrote Mayra Guillén. . “Vanessa didn’t deserve to be sexually assaulted, to be murdered, to be cut into pieces, to be burned, to be buried in cement.”

A 2021 army report, and a supplement civilian review in December 2020, found a permissive environment for sexual assault and harassment throughout the facility and within Guillén’s unit, the 3rd Cavalry Regiment.

For nearly a year, army officials said they had no evidence that Guillén was sexually harassed, often denying specific family allegations that Robinson harassed her and declining to say if there were other potential aggressors.

The report describes two incidents in 2019 that upset Guillén, who did not officially report them because she feared retaliation. In one incident, a supervisor who was constantly hostile to her made sexual remarks to her in Spanish.

This appalled her so much, according to the report, that another supervisor asked her what was bothering her. She told the supervisor about the harassment and told other soldiers about it, some of whom later reported it to unit management, who did not address the issue.

The soldier who harassed her was not Robinson, but he sexually harassed another woman, investigators have concluded.

Guillén’s death and the attention it garnered helped transform how the military views and searches for missing soldiers. She was declared absent without leave, or AWOL, until the day her remains were discovered when it was clear that her disappearance was not voluntary, according to the report. The designation was a matter of policy and did not affect the search effort, which the Army said was well done. The army’s failure to detain Robinson helped him escape imprisonment and kill himself, and Guillén’s sister criticized his handling of the case.

“A lack of responsibility”: how Vanessa Guillén’s killer fled a guard before committing suicide

The military has since changed policy to make it more urgent to find soldiers and declare them missing rather than absent, according to the report, an attempt to remove the ambiguity of status and the stigma of the AWOL label, which often involves that a soldier was unprofessional for not showing up for duty.

The lawsuit, Khawam said, is intended to help Guillén’s family deal with the pain of their loss, though the ensuing anguish will never bring back what they want most – Guillén.

The Department of Defense has six months to make a decision on the claim, she said.

“The DOD never had that responsibility,” she said of the recent court ruling and lawsuit. “I believe the accountability that we are going to see is a great progression of the law put in place but also enforced.”


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