Judge Lets Civil Suit in Diplomatic Immunity Case Move Ahead

By Matthew Barakat | February 18, 2021

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — A federal judge in Virginia is letting a British family move forward with its lawsuit in the U.S. against an American woman who invoked diplomatic immunity when she was accused of fatally injuring a teenager in a car crash.

Anne Sacoolas and her husband, Jonathan, were stationed in central England in August 2019 when British authorities say 19-year-old Harry Dunn was struck by a car driving on the wrong side of the road.

British authorities pursued criminal charges against Anne Sacoolas but she claimed diplomatic immunity and left the country, with the support of the U.S. government. The Sacoolases are now living in northern Virginia.

Dunn’s family filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Alexandria last year. The Sacoolases asked a judge to dismiss the case, arguing it should be heard in England instead.

In an order rejecting that request, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III said a civil trial in the United Kingdom would not be an adequate forum because the Sacoolases have made clear that they have no intention of returning to the country.

The U.S. government’s refusal to waive diplomatic immunity provoked anger in the United Kingdom. At the time, it was believed that Anne Sacoolas was able to claim immunity because her husband was a U.S. intelligence officer stationed at RAF Croughton, a military base in central England used by U.S. forces.

But at a pretrial hearing earlier this month in Alexandria, Anne Sacoolas’ lawyers revealed that she too was a government employee for “an intelligence agency” at the time of the crash, though his responses about her specific role were vague. Ellis, in his order, said it “appears” that she worked for the State Department.

Her status as an employee, rather than as a spouse, could actually weaken her claims to immunity under the agreement between the two countries.

According to the lawsuit, Anne Sacoolas was driving her Volvo SUV on the wrong side of the road near the Croughton base when she struck Dunn. The lawsuit said she’d been living in England for several weeks by then and should have been acclimated to driving on the left side of the road.

The lawsuit alleges that she did not call an ambulance, and that it was a passerby who arrived several minutes later who called for help.

In court, Anne Sacoolas’ lawyer says she admits she caused the crash and takes “full responsibility.”

In response, Ellis wrote: “Accepting full responsibility doesn’t mean you run away; it means that you stay there and face it. So I think you shouldn’t overplay the `full responsibility’ card.”

The Dunns’ lawyer, Agnieszka Fryszman, praised the judge’s ruling. “Anne Sacoolas’ motion to transfer the case to England was simply unfair. She confirmed she would never return to England to participate in any trial, so we are glad the judge rejected what was in effect an effort to evade accountability for her actions.”

In a statement, Harry Dunn’s mother, Charlotte Charles, said her family wants “the truth about what happened to Harry.”

“Any parent who has lost a child can relate to the added pain that comes without having any accountability, and we are ready to move forward and finally get long overdue answers.”

The Sacoolases’ lawyer did not immediately return a call and email Tuesday seeking comment.

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