VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) - 10 On Your Side spoke exclusively with a former Blackwater contractor from Virginia Beach, who will soon turn himself in for shooting three Afghan civilians in 2009.
Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal on 33-year-old Chris Drotleff's case. He was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for killing two Afghan civilians and injuring another in May 2009.
Drotleff is the first contractor of Moyock, N.C.-based Blackwater Security (now renamed Academi) to go to prison for the shooting.
Drotleff spoke with WAVY's Andy Fox about the raw deal he thinks he got, how he was acting in self defense, and how he says the United States has made him a scapegoat.
"What I really am thinking about is not watching my children grow up for the next two and half years," Drotleff said.
He told his 6-year-old and 3-year-old, "I told them I love them, and I'd see them later.... 'Daddy's going somewhere, and I will see you when I get back."'
Drotleff will spend 37 months in federal prison.
"I feel like I was railroaded, I do," Drotleff said.
He said the U.S. Government was trying to appease Afghanistan in bringing him to trial.
"They were saying. 'Look, Afghanistan, this is what we will do to people who go over there,' and think they have the right to do as they want... I acted in self defense... I am being used as a scapegoat."
Drotleff claims he was trying to save his own life that day in May 2009.
"A car came up behind us in the middle of our convoy, and struck our lead vehicle... it rolled two or three times into a ditch... I thought they had a car bomb... the car drove off, but did a u-turn and started coming back... they were coming the wrong way down a Jalalabad road... I thought they were carrying explosives... absolutely, I thought they just took out our lead vehicle and were turning around to finish the job," Drotleff said.
The car was brought to Norfolk for the trial.
"We continued firing on that vehicle and there were rounds in back of the vehicle, but that's because as that vehicle passed us we shot at it," Drotleff remembered. "After it had passed us, we continued shooting at it because the last thing you want is a 2,000 pound weapon doing a u-turn, and get a second chance at what it just tried to do."
At trial, U.S. District Judge Robert Doumar was not sympathetic to that explanation, and noted the car was leaving.
"We can't get around the fact that all of the bullet holes were in the rear of the vehicle... it was reckless conduct, totally reckless."
In the end Drotleff, and his co defendant Justin Cannon had a hung jury and were convicted of a far less involuntary manslaughter charge.
Drotleff said it was self-defense in a war zone.
"We were not savage drunks or contractors over there acting like cowboys," Drotleff said. "We were trying to get home to our families."
Drotleff said he wishes he told the jury the incident was self defense.
"We've been told to stay quiet... to 'ride it through,'" Drotleff said.
U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride said Drotleff's actions seriously harmed the country's mission in Afghanistan.
"The jury's verdict [in the second trial] and [Wednesday's] sentence shows that no one is above the law, even in a combat zone, and that the reckless use of force will be punished," MacBride said.
"Look, you watch the carnage that is Afghanistan," Drotleff said. "Don't tell me about reckless force because you don't know what reckless force is... we acted in self defense."
Drotleff also said his working for private contractor Blackwater indicted him and it would have been different had he been in the military.
"If we were military this never would have happened," Drotleff said. "We were not military. Every time Blackwater sneezes they end up in the news, and right now we are being used as scapegoats to fulfill some type of agenda."
Drotleff does not know when he will turn himself in. Cannon was also convicted and will spend time in federal prison.
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