Judge: Army, FBI aware soldier a 'substantial risk' before he killed former soldier, his girlfriend
By MIKE CARTER | The Seattle Times | Published: March 14, 2017
SEATTLE (Tribune News Service) — A federal judge in Seattle has issued a remarkable order in a wrongful-death lawsuit stemming from the 2011 murders of a Marysville man and his girlfriend by a renegade group of U.S. soldiers, finding the FBI and Army knew the leader of the group “posed a substantial risk” to the public two months before the killings.
The ruling — called an “adverse inference” — was issued March 1 by U.S. District Judge Barbara Rothstein as she prepares to consider the U.S. government’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit by the parents of 17-year-old Tiffany York, who was killed by members of a secret anti-government militia that had flourished at Fort Stewart, Ga.
York, a Georgia high-school student, died in an execution-style shooting with her boyfriend, Marysville native and former Army Pvt. Michael Roark, on Dec. 5, 2011, in the woods outside the base. Their killings were carried out on the order of the founder and leader of the militia, then-Pvt. Issac Aguigui, a Cashmere, Chelan County, native who is serving life in prison for the killings.
Roark was killed because Aguigui didn’t trust him after he’d been discharged from the Army. York died because she was with him, according to news reports and court records.
Roark’s parents had sued the Army as well, but their claim was dismissed last August by a judge who said she had to comply with a doctrine that prevents the military from being sued for injuries arising from military service.
In that ruling, however, U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman, who was presiding over the case at the time, acknowledged that application of the doctrine in this case led to “unwanted results,” and applying it “unfairly leaves Michael Roark’s family without a remedy to right the wrongs they allege.”
Roark’s parents have appealed Pechman’s order to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Yorks’ wrongful-death claim, filed in 2014, remains intact, and Judge Rothstein is preparing to consider the government’s motion to dismiss the case on summary judgment before trial. The Yorks claim the government was negligent by not acting on incriminating evidence against Aguigui.
Rothstein has already concluded from the evidence presented so far that “the FBI and the U.S. Army were aware on September 30, 2011 that Pvt. Isaac Aguigui posed a substantial risk of committing a violent act against members of the public.”
She issued the order after the government repeatedly failed to turn over unredacted documents to York’s attorneys after the judge had ordered them to do so.
A bench trial on the lawsuit is scheduled for April 24 in Seattle.
A request for comment from the Seattle office of the FBI was referred to FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., which did not respond.
Court documents indicate Aguigui’s violent behavior dates to 2009, when, according to Army records, he was thrown out of the U.S. Military Academy prep school after holding a knife to another cadet’s throat.
In May 2011, he confessed to Fort Stewart military police officials that he and a fellow soldier had conspired to kill a civilian drug dealer, going as far as to buy the shotgun they planned to use in the crime, according to the court record. He was not charged, and two months later Aguigui’s pregnant wife, Army Sgt. Dierdre Wetzker, was found dead under suspicious circumstances.
The day after her death, Aguigui applied for her $500,000 Army death benefit, which was paid within weeks, even as the investigation into Wetzker’s death proceeded, according to the court file.
Aguigui, according to court records and news accounts, used the money to fund his plan to sow anarchy and assassination and ultimately overthrow the U.S. government.
The court documents also allege Aguigui used the money to party and recruit new members into his group, which he called FEAR, which stands for “Forever Enduring, Always Ready.”
More than $30,000 of the death-benefit money was spent in September 2011 at a gun store in Wenatchee, where Aguigui bought dozens of military-style firearms, according to records.
Documents filed in the case indicate Aguigui was planning an active-shooter attack at Fort Stewart and talked about attacking Grand Coulee Dam in Eastern Washington, poisoning the state’s apple crop and assassinating then-President Barack Obama.
The documents also indicate that the Army, FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and local law enforcement in Georgia and Eastern Washington were aware that Aguigui posed a significant risk to the public.
However, the docket also shows the agencies have been reluctant to turn over documents the Yorks’ attorneys need to explore that issue, which led to Rothstein’s “adverse inference” ruling.
Brian Brook, the New York attorney representing York’s parents and appealing the Roark dismissal, complained that the government would not provide him with unredacted copies of emails, memos and other documents even though the court had told them to. They include FBI emails with the heading “Soldier Threat to Military and Public” dated Sept. 30, 2012, two months before the killings.
That same day, the military police at Joint Base Lewis-McChord issued a “special bulletin” alerting law enforcement to “be on the lookout” for Aguigui, who was thought to be in the Cashmere area and had just purchased 15 firearms.
While the document in the court files is redacted, a copy of the bulletin has been released by WikiLeaks.
Brook said nobody has offered any explanation as to why Aguigui was not detained after he returned from Washington to Georgia, where he was arrested
“It’s astounding. There is no other case like this out there, anywhere,” he said.
The negligence, he argues, was widespread among soldiers, Army officials and law enforcement, who knew Aguigui was dangerous and did nothing.
“What kind of a soldier overhears someone talking about killing civilians and not report it to command?” Brook asked. “And to make it worse, the government was funding the whole thing” through the Wetzker death benefits, which Brook said never should have been paid while questions remained about how she died.
To date, 11 people, including Aguigui and other key figures in FEAR, have been convicted. He was convicted of his wife’s murder in August 2014 in Georgia.
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.
Mike Carter: firstname.lastname@example.org