Former prostitute claims U.S. Embassy van ran over her after she was thrown out of it
Marines say she was injured when trying to get back into vehicle in Brasilia in December
Panetta says he has "no tolerance" for alleged behavior
A former prostitute plans to sue the U.S. Embassy in Brazil, alleging that members of its security team in December threw her from a van and ran over her, the woman’s attorney said.
Romila Aparacida Ferreira showed CNN photos of injuries she claimed she received in the incident.
“These are the tire marks,” she said about one photo. “They run down my side and across my abdomen.”
Ferreira claimed she suffered a broken collarbone, three broken ribs and a punctured lung.
The story broke this week, eliciting a comment from visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. The Marines involved were disciplined and are no longer in Brazil, he said.
“They were reduced in rank and they were severely punished for that behavior. I have no tolerance for that kind of conduct, not here or any place in the world,” Panetta said.
The incident is the third to come to light this month involving alleged transgressions by U.S. government employees or military personnel.
The Secret Service has been rocked by allegations that agents engaged in heavy drinking and consorting with prostitutes this month before President Barack Obama arrived in Cartagena, Colombia, for the Summit of the Americas. Twelve members of the military are under investigation in that alleged incident.
New claims include an account from El Salvador described by CNN affiliate Seattle TV station KIRO as being very similar to what allegedly happened in Colombia. It involved members of the Secret Service and other government agencies, according to KIRO.
Ferreira, in an interview at her modest apartment in a suburb of the Brazilian capital, said she worked for three years as a call girl and stripper at Apples nightclub.
On December 29, she said, she and three co-workers left the club with a group of Americans from the U.S. Embassy security team.
“We had drinks and chatted and then we each set a price,” said Ferreira.
According to a police report, the men, three Marines and one embassy employee, called for an embassy van and driver to pick them up.
While soliciting prostitution is legal in Brazil, U.S. military law bars service members from patronizing prostitutes, engaging in conduct unbecoming an officer or, for enlisted personnel, conduct “prejudicial to good order and discipline.” It is also considered a breach of the Secret Service’s conduct code, government sources said.
The lengthy police report has contradictory accounts of what happened next.
Ferreira says she was violently thrown out of the van by one of the Marines after she argued with the Brazilian driver.
Other witnesses say she was aggressively forced out, but not violently thrown on the ground.
The Marines said Ferreira was asked to leave. When she stepped out of the car, she received injuries as she tried to get back in, they contended.
Ferreira said she was holding on to the door handle when the van took off.
“That’s when it dragged me and ripped the skin off my leg. I let go and then the back tire drove over me, literally right over me,” she said.
According to the police report, the van stopped and the other women got out. Then, with the embassy staffers inside, the van drove off, leaving Ferreira in the road.
The woman’s attorney, Antonio Rodrigo Machado, said the lawsuit is not about money.
“It’s a question of honor and reputation,” he said. “If money will make them suffer and recognize how much pain they’ve caused, then let it be money.”
The U.S. Embassy in Brasilia, when asked for details of the incident, referred to comments made Thursday by a U.S. State Department spokeswoman.
“My understanding is that she (Ferreira) was initially in the car, she was asked to leave the car, she got out of the car, the doors were closed, as the Pentagon guy said, the vehicle was at rest, and then, as they started to drive away, she chased after the car, tried to get back in and that’s when she was hurt,” said spokeswoman Victoria Nuland. “I do not have that she was run over by the car.”
The embassy cooperated with Brazilian authorities and allowed U.S. employees to be interviewed, Nuland told reporters.
Ferreira said she is no longer working as a prostitute. She used her savings to start a pet grooming shop.
“I’m not that girl from the club,” she said. “I started to think about what I wanted from life.”
Ferreira says she turned down a compensation offer of $2,000 from the U.S. Embassy because it wasn’t enough to pay her medical expenses or lost income.
Machado says Brazilian prosecutors are considering criminal charges against the Americans, including assault. But since the men are no longer in the country, it is not clear whether they would ever face trial in Brazil.