Former Marine sues Calif. city to get back police job

Jose Luis Nazario was acquitted on charges of killing unarmed detainees, but still can't get job back


Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — An ex-Marine acquitted on charges of killing unarmed Iraqi detainees sued the city of Riverside Wednesday over not being rehired as a police officer.

Jose Luis Nazario filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court, seeking more than $4.5 million in damages.

The suit claims Riverside violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, a federal law that prohibits discrimination against veterans.

Nazario was acquitted of voluntary manslaughter in 2008 after authorities alleged he killed or caused others to kill four unarmed detainees in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004.

Nazario was honorably discharged and had been a police officer for nearly two years when he was fired by the city shortly after his arrest in 2007. He claims the city said it would rehire him if he was acquitted.

In December, he was told in writing he was no longer being considered for the job.

A key issue in the case is whether allegations involving Nazario's conduct in combat or his subsequent arrest can be used by Riverside as a reason to fire him and refusing to rehire him.

"We gave them plenty of time to do the right thing, and they refused to do it," said attorney Joseph Preis, who represents Nazario.

Preis said the city didn't explain why it wasn't rehiring Nazario, who currently lives in New York and collects unemployment benefits.

A phone message left for the Riverside city attorney wasn't immediately returned.

Nazario's trial marked the first time a civilian jury had decided if the combat actions of a former enlisted member of the military violated the laws of war. Some jurors felt there wasn't enough evidence against Nazario to convict him.

The charges stemmed from house-to-house fighting during "Operation Phantom Fury." Other former Marines testified during the five-day trial that they did not see Nazario kill detainees but heard the gunshots.

Details of the incident became public in 2006, when Sgt. Ryan Weemer, Nazario's former squadmate, volunteered details during a job interview for the U.S. Secret Service. A lie-detector screening included a question about the most serious crime Weemer ever committed.

Weemer was later acquitted by a military jury of murder and dereliction of duty.

Marine Sgt. Jermaine Nelson pleaded guilty to dereliction of duty in September after the government dropped a murder charge. A pretrial agreement spared Nelson prison time and gave him an honorable discharge.

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