- Peace Corps employee John Peterson was paid $258,000 while on leave and under investigation after killing a woman in a 2019 hit and run in Tanzania, records show.
- The Peace Corps paid the family of the woman Peterson killed just $13,000, despite a federal law that allows the agency to settle such claims for up to $20,000.
- The crash happened after Peterson had been drinking at a bar and picked up a sex worker, according to the Peace Corps. Peterson never faced charges in Tanzania or the United States.
John Peterson sat in a Tanzanian police station in August 2019, capping off a chaotic driving spree that left a mother of three dead on the streets of Dar es Salaam. But before he could be criminally charged, Peterson’s employer — the United States government — whisked him back to America and put him on leave while he was under investigation.
Records obtained by USA TODAY show U.S. taxpayers paid Peterson, a Peace Corps employee, more than $258,000 over the next year and a half. That included nearly $20,000 in unused vacation time and a $1,500 “special act or service award” paid about a week after his return to America, records show. When he finally resigned in February 2021, after the agency revoked his security clearance, Peterson’s final paycheck had just $602 in deductions related to the fatal incident, including the cost to tow the Toyota RAV4 he wrecked.
Meanwhile, the agency paid the family of the woman Peterson killed about $13,000, records show, despite a federal law that allows the Peace Corps to settle such claims for up to $20,000.
The Peace Corps paid more to the Tanzanian law firm it hired to negotiate the settlements with the deceased woman's family and two other women Peterson injured, according to an invoice from the firm. The records do not indicate that Peterson's victims had their own legal counsel during the settlement talks, which concluded about six months after the crash. In exchange for the payouts, the victims agreed to not make any legal claims against the agency or Peterson.
The financial records, obtained by USA TODAY through Freedom of Information Act requests, illustrate the broad protections afforded to federal workers involved in even the most egregious behaviors. Far less consideration was given to those Peterson harmed, including a grieving and impoverished family, despite the agency’s aspirational mission of spreading “world peace and friendship.”
Agnieszka Fryszman, a lawyer who specializes in international human rights cases, reviewed the settlements for USA TODAY and raised concerns over the apparent lack of legal representation for Peterson’s victims. She said she was particularly troubled because the woman Peterson killed, Rabia Issa, had two underage children who did not appear to have been appointed guardians to represent their interests, which almost certainly would have been the case if the incident occurred in the United States.
“They give up all their rights for this relatively low award,” Fryszman said. “And there's some value to speed and quick recovery. But if people don't really understand what their rights are and what they might be entitled to in order to protect their interests — and protect the interests of kids who are very young and might need support for a pretty long time — it just doesn't seem fair.”
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