Families of anti-ISIS contractors blame Florida company for deadly Bulgarian grenade explosion

TAMPA, Fla. — On June 6, 2015, Francis Norwillo and Michael Dougherty were at a firing range in Bulgaria inspecting a 30-year-old rocket propelled grenade set to be used to train and arm Syrian anti-ISIS fighters.

Norwillo, of Fairview, Texas, was holding the grenade while Dougherty, of Fort Walton, Florida, stood next to him taking cellphone video.

Without warning, the grenade exploded, killing Norwillo and seriously injuring Dougherty, and now a federal lawsuit is blaming Tampa-based Purple Shovel, LLC for the incident.

According to a 2015 Buzzfeed investigation, Purple Shovel was contracted by the U.S. government to train and arm Syrian rebels so they could fight the terrorist organization ISIS.

The company tried to sell the U.S. thousands of Russian-style rocket-propelled grenades that had been manufactured in Bulgaria as far back as 1984, the Buzzfeed investigation alleged.

That allegation is at the center of the lawsuit filed in federal court last week on behalf of Dougherty and Norwillo’s estate.

“Defendants knew that the U.S. government had rejected the use of these same grenades because the grenades were defective, unstable and dangerous,” the lawsuit said. “Despite knowing the defective, unstable (and) dangerous nature of the more than 30-year-old Bulgarian-manufactured grenades … (the defendants) knowingly and willfully placed Mr. Norwillo and Mr. Dougherty in grave danger.”

The lawsuit also claims that Purple Shovel and the other defendants tried to cover up the nature of the explosion.

Purple Shovel filed a response to the lawsuit, saying it was Norwillo and Dougherty’s “negligence” that caused the grenade to explode.

Also named as defendants in the suit filed by Norwillo’s widow, Ziecha Norwillo, and Dougherty were Florida-based Skybridge Tactical, LLC, and Skybridge Resources, LLC; and Virginia-based Regulus Global LLC, and Regulus Global Inc.

The lawsuit seeks an unspecified amount of damages.