Prosecutors today asked a Washington judge to dismiss charges against one of five former private security guards in the 2007 shooting deaths of more than a dozen Iraqis in Baghdad.
The decision, announced in a court filing in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, came as the U.S. Justice Department considers filing a new indictment against the former Blackwater security contractors. Five guards, including Donald Ball, whose case the government says should be dismissed, were charged with manslaughter in 2008 following a shooting in Nisour Square in Baghdad. The gunfire left 14 Iraqi civilians dead.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina in 2009, citing prosecutorial abuses, threw out the case. Urbina concluded the government improperly used protected statements, made by the guards themselves in the aftermath of the shooting, in building its case. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit later revived the case, giving the government a second chance to pursue charges. The government has not filed a new indictment.
Ball's lawyer, Steven McCool of Mallon & McCool, recently urged prosecutors not to pursue a case against his client. Writing to the U.S. Attorney's Office in March, McCool said the government intentionally misled a grand jury to obtain a "baseless indictment being returned against Mr. Ball."
“Ron Machen should be congratulated for dismissing the case against Don Ball," McCool wrote in an email today. "However, those prosecutors who falsely accused an innocent man should be ashamed of themselves.”
In the Justice Department's court filing today, prosecutors including Anthony Asuncion and T. Patrick Martin of the U.S. Attorney's Office National Security Section, did not explain the decision not to pursue a charge against Ball.
"The government has exercised its prosecutorial discretion in dismissing the charges against Mr. Ball based on its assessment of the admissible evidence against him," spokesman William Miller wrote in an email. "Today's action means that the government cannot bring these charges again against Mr. Ball arising out of his involvement in the shootings by Blackwater guards that occurred on September 16, 2007, in Nisur Square in Baghdad, Iraq."
Four defendants—Paul Slough, Nicholas Slatten, Evan Liberty and Dustin Heard—remain in the case. During the first prosecution, the government dismissed Slatten as a defendant. Slatten's lawyers at Wiltshire & Grannis contend, this time around, that Slatten cannot be charged in any new indictment.
"To permit the government to change its position now would pave the way for egregious manipulation of the judicial system," Slatten's defense lawyers wrote in court papers earlier this year. Prosecutors argue that the D.C. Circuit revived the case, in 2011, against all five of the Blackwater guards, including Slatten.
Earlier this month, Senior U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth, who took the case after Urbina retired, gave the government until October 21 to return any superseding indictment against the guards.