Six years after their slayings, the families of a former soldier and his girlfriend killed by a member of a soldier-created radical militia have settled their wrongful death suits with the government, to the tune of $4 million, their attorney told Army Times on Friday.
The families of former Pvt. Michael Roark and his 17-year-old girlfriend, Tiffany York, will receive $1.7 million and $2.3 million, respectively. The two were executed by a member of an anti-government paramilitary group founded by former Pvt. Isaac Aguigui, who is serving a life sentence for ordering the killing, as well as the murder of his pregnant wife earlier that year.
“Ultimately, however, none of this is close to ‘compensation’ for the loss of their children,” Brian Brook, the attorney, said. “Nor does it account for how terrifyingly negligent the Army was, not just by allowing a domestic terrorist group to form within its own ranks, but by financing it with the improper payment of $500,000 in death benefits to the leader of the group, Isaac Aguigui, while he was a suspect in his wife’s homicide.”
The Justice Department declined to comment, spokeswoman Kerri Kupec told Army Times on Friday.
In the lawsuits settled Jan. 25, the victims’ parents alleged that the soldiers’ Fort Stewart, Georgia, leadership were aware of the threat posed by Aguigui, and that they should have taken steps to detain him before he ordered their children’s deaths.
“The Army does not admit any wrongdoing, of course. But from my clients’ perspective, the payments in settlement of their claims is a tacit admission that the Army made serious mistakes,” Brook said.
Aguigui reported his wife dead in July 2011, and the investigation into her death was ongoing in December 2011, when Roark and York were killed.
“Every victim deserves to have their case prosecuted. In this case it took some time,” Fort Stewart spokesman Kevin Larson told the Associated Press when Aguigui was charged in April 2013.
Tracy Jahr and Brett Roark, Michael’s parents, filed a lawsuit against the federal government in 2014, along with Brenda Thomas and Timothy York, Tiffany’s parents. They argued that the Army suspected Aguigui of the murder of his wife, an active duty sergeant, but their complacency led to more violence.
According to court documents, Aguigui used his wife’s $100,000 death gratuity and $400,000 Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance checks to recruit and arm his militia, Forever Enduring, Always Ready — or FEAR.
The group of disaffected service members had come together to plan the violent overthrow of the U.S. government, starting with attacks like poisoning Washington state’s apple crops and bombing a public park in Savannah, Georgia, the Associated Press reported in 2013.
Prosecutors denied that Roark had been a member of the group, though he had been aware of it. After Roark had been separated from the Army for misconduct, Aguigui questioned whether he could trust Roark and ordered his death. York was collateral damage.
The families’ initial case was thrown out by a judge, citing the Feres doctrine, which prevents service members or their families from suing the military for death or injury as a result of service.
“We appealed that decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that (1) Feres does not apply to injuries suffered entirely after the end of service, and (2) in any event, the judge-made Feres doctrine, which is widely criticized by courts and commentators alike as discriminatory against service members, should be overturned,” Brook said.
Meanwhile, York’s parents pursued another lawsuit in Seattle’s district court, Brook said. Last June, Brook agreed to represent them both in arbitration with the Justice Department.
On Jan. 25, both settled with the government. Roark’s parents agreed to dismiss their case, while York’s parents are still waiting on a judge’s motion to dismiss, Brook said.
“And the settlement ends the acute stress of ongoing litigation about the deaths of their kids,” Brook said.“ They all pray that the Army learns from those mistakes, and that nothing like this happens to anyone else’s children ever again.”
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members. Follow on Twitter @Meghann_MT