The family of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillén, who disappeared from Fort Hood, Texas, in 2020 and was later found dead, filed a case Friday seeking $35 million in damages from the Department of the Army, according to a court filing and Natalie Khawam, attorney for Guillén’s family.
The case claims that from October 1, 2019, to April 22, 2020, “Guillén suffered mental anguish, fear, emotional distress, physical injury, and death as a result of sexual harassment, rape, sodomy, and physical assault.” The family is seeking $10 million in Guillén’s wrongful death and $25 million in personal injury claims.
“Historically you couldn’t sue the DOD if you’re a victim of sexual harassment/assault due to the DOD’s broad misapplication of the Feres Doctrine, a 1950’s Supreme Court decision that never included or addressed sexual assault, yet the DOD continued to use that case to evade accountability,” Khawam told CNN. “This week the 9th Circuit held that sexual assault is not incident to service, and therefore the Feres Doctrine should not apply to service members who are sexually assaulted.”
“Our service members deserve the same rights and protections we all have. They have been denied these basic protections for too long. They signed up to take a bullet for our country, not to be sexually assaulted while serving. The 9th Circuit’s ruling is a major step in seeking Justice for Vanessa, and all victims of sexual assault,” she added.
When asked for comment Saturday, U.S. Army Sgt. Pablo Saez said, “As a matter of policy, the Army does not comment on ongoing litigation.”
Guillén’s death sparked national attention not only because she was allegedly killed by another soldier at Fort Hood, but because the perpetrator took her body to another location miles away, and it was not discovered for more than two months. Guillén, 20, went missing in April 2020 and after last being seen in the parking lot of her barracks at Fort Hood, according to the US Army Criminal Investigation Command, before her remains were found June 30 of that year.
The case brought outrage at the Army’s failure to fully deal initially with the sexual harassment she reported experiencing and its lack of attention to her case once she went missing.
A report following the Army’s fact-finding investigation into the case indicates that Guillén reported that she was sexually harassed on at least two occasions, but her supervisor failed to report it and other leaders failed to take appropriate action. The report found no evidence that she was harassed by Spc. Aaron Robinson, her alleged murderer.
Robinson allegedly murdered Guillén by bludgeoning her to death with a hammer at the armory where she worked. The report also reveals that Army personnel tried to detain Robinson in a room on base by telling him he had violated Covid-19 restrictions but that he simply escaped. He later died by suicide as law enforcement was trying to detain him.
CNN’s Aaron Pellish, Barbara Starr, Amir Vera, Lori Daniel and Caroline Kelly contributed to this report