BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – A year after a U.S. soldier was sentenced to 30 years in prison for murdering his mistress in Panama, the woman’s family brought a $10 million suit against the United States.
The United States enjoys sovereign immunity for certain torts committed by its employees, but the parents and brother of Vanesa Rodriguez Chavarria say immunity is not available in this case because Omar Velez-Pagan murdered his 25-year-old mistress in a U.S.-owned vehicle, used for official U.S. business in the Republic of Panama.
A former master sergeant for the the U.S. Army, Velez-Pagan had been in Panama for about seven months before killing Rodriguez Chavarria on June 22, 2014.
Their affair was common knowledge among staff at the U.S. Embassy in Panama and among fellow soldiers, according to the federal complaint filed on June 30 in Brooklyn.
After Velez-Pagan bludgeoned the young woman to death, the family says, he used his embassy-owned Toyota Hi-Lux to repeatedly run over her body so that it would look like she died in a traffic accident.
A Fort Bragg jury didn’t buy the soldier’s story, however, and the 38-year-old is now serving 30 years for unpremeditated murder.
Rodriguez Chavarria’s family says the “gruesome attack and murder … could and would have been averted had the United States government not sent Omar Velez-Pagan to the Republic of Panama.”
Seeking punitive damages, the family alleges negligence, wrongful death, and assault and battery, among other claims.
The complaint notes that Velez-Pagan was stationed in Panama as part of the administrative and technical staff of the U.S. Embassy, tasked with training officers of Panama’s National Police Force.
On June 19 — days before Rodriguez Chavarria’s murder — Velez-Pagan was in Guarare, Panama, to instruct Panamanian police in a shooting exercise.
Rodriguez Chavarria’s family is represented Jeremy Iandolo.