'Pain, anger and sadness': Peace Corps under scrutiny after worker kills woman in Africa




  • In Business
  • 2022-07-18 17:38:47Z
  • By USA TODAY

An American Peace Corps employee in Tanzania killed a mother of three and injured two others in a series of crashes in 2019 after a night of drinking.

USA TODAY has been unearthing documents and accounts of the incident involving high-ranking Peace Corps employee John Peterson. Within hours of the incident, the American was rushed onto a plane by the Peace Corps and U.S. Embassy staff and out of the country. Tanzanian and U.S. authorities have been unable to file charges from the incident.

Peterson was suspended from his duties and remained on the payroll for more than a year after the incident before he resigned.

USA TODAY has interviewed dozens of sources familiar with the Aug. 24, 2019 incident, the fallout and the call for reform. Since USA TODAY published its exclusive report in December, former Peace Corps members have called for change at the agency and raised thousands of dollars for the deceased woman's family.

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The newspaper has filed more than 20 Freedom of Information Act requests about the incident and continues to probe who made key decisions about Peterson's treatment.

So far, the State Department has been silent about its role in medically evacuating the American under its purview at the foreign post.

We invite you to come back to this page again and again and stay connected as we peel back layers of this tragic episode about the Peace Corps' aspirational mission of promoting "world peace and friendship" and new questions about whether those in charge of fulfilling that promise have done so at the expense of the communities they and the agency's volunteers are meant to serve.

Your tax dollars paid a Peace Corps worker $258,000 after he killed a woman

Rabia Issa
Rabia Issa's relatives kept a photocopy of John Peterson's driver's license, which they say police gave them after Issa's death.  

Records obtained by USA TODAY show U.S. taxpayers paid Peterson more than $258,000 while he was on leave and under investigation after killing a Tanzanian woman, Rabia Issa, in a 2019 hit-and-run. That included a $1,500 "special act or service award" paid about a week after his return to America, records show.

The Peace Corps paid Issa's family about $13,000, despite a federal law that allows the agency 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.

USA TODAY investigation: Your tax dollars paid a Peace Corps worker $258,000 after he killed a woman

State Department silent on evacuation of Peace Corps employee who killed woman in Africa

Officials at the State Department declined to provide any information about the agency
Officials at the State Department declined to provide any information about the agency's role in a case involving a former Peace Corps worker.  

Peterson left Tanzania for medical care the same day he killed a woman with his car. Since then, officials from the U.S. Department of State have declined to release any information about the fatal incident involving the high-ranking Peace Corps employee. Yet USA TODAY found agency staff have been closely involved, including helping arrange for Peterson's departure from the country and investigating the incident alongside the Peace Corps Office of Inspector General.

USA TODAY Investigation: State Department silent on evacuation of Peace Corps employee who killed woman in Africa

With questions about sex workers, feds investigate former Peace Corps employee John Peterson

Rabia Issa was setting up her food stand at this corner around dawn on Aug.
Rabia Issa was setting up her food stand at this corner around dawn on Aug.  

In 2019, Peterson struck and killed a Tanzanian woman with his car while a sex worker was in the passenger seat. He wasn't charged. But USA TODAY confirmed that the former Peace Corps employee, who avoided prosecution after killing a mother of three in a car crash, is the subject of a federal watchdog's inquiry into whether he had a history of hiring sex workers overseas.

USA TODAY Investigation: With questions about sex workers, feds investigate former Peace Corps employee John Peterson

'They've covered it up': Backlash swells over Peace Corps worker's involvement in death in Africa

The Peace Corps headquarters is seen in Washington.
The Peace Corps headquarters is seen in Washington.  

When a Peace Corps employee in Tanzania went out drinking and killed a mother of three in a 2019 car wreck, U.S. officials quickly whisked him out of Africa. The death of Rabia Issa didn't draw any attention until USA TODAY started asking questions; the only public accounting of her death was tucked into a routine report to Congress that didn't name the Peace Corps employee, his victim or even the country where it occurred.

To families who've found themselves in similar situations, it was a familiar feeling, one woman said, to see someone "swept under the carpet. Like their life didn't matter. Like we mean absolutely nothing in comparison to the U.S. government."

USA TODAY Investigation: 'They've covered it up': Backlash swells over Peace Corps worker's involvement in death in Africa

A Peace Corps worker killed a woman in Africa. The U.S. helped him escape prosecution.

Family members of late Rabia Issa and a freelance Tanzanian reporter pray at the grave of the late Rabia at Msasani graveyard in Dar es Salaam Tanzania.
Family members of late Rabia Issa and a freelance Tanzanian reporter pray at the grave of the late Rabia at Msasani graveyard in Dar es Salaam Tanzania.  

An American Peace Corps employee in Tanzania in 2019 killed a mother of three and injured two others in a series of car crashes that began after he left a bar where he had been drinking and brought a sex worker back to his government-leased home. Witnesses pelted the man's car with rocks and pursued on motorcycles as he fled the scenes of his crimes. The chaotic and deadly episode ended when he slammed into a pole and was detained by police.

USA TODAY Investigation: A Peace Corps worker killed a woman in Africa. The US helped him escape prosecution.

More USA TODAY coverage of problems in the Peace Corps

  • Sexual assault in Peace Corps: Peace Corps volunteers were raped and assaulted. A review says the agency isn't doing enough to protect them.

  • Sexual assault in Peace Corps: Assaults rise as the Peace Corps fails its volunteers

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How USA TODAY investigation into Peace Corps policies came together

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