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$4.47 Million in Washington Negligent Supervision Settlements and Verdicts

Washington State recently settled or was found liable in three separate law suits alleging that it negligently supervised probationers or parolees. Negligent supervision cases are not new in Washington. Since 2000, the State either settled or was ordered to pay more than $100 million in similar suits.

The family of Cynthia Bordon brought the most recent suit. Bordon was killed in 1998 when Richard Allen Jones, who was drunk at the time, slammed his car head-on into hers. Jones was driving with a suspended license and was on supervision for several felony convictions at the time. He is currently serving a prison sentence for vehicular homicide in connection with Bordon's death.

Bordon's family sued the Department of Corrections (DOC), alleging that it negligently supervised Jones in the months preceding the accident. In June of 2002, a Snohomish County jury determined that the DOC was 24 percent responsible for Bordon's death and ordered the State to pay approximately $169,000 in damages. Jones was ordered to pay an additional $650,000 to Bordon's estate.

Shelia Powell also sued the State for its failure to properly monitor the teenager who murdered her daughter, Jamie Blevins. On August 11, 1996, Blevins, who was eight months pregnant at the time, was shot in the face by her boyfriend, Lenwood McCullum. McCullum had walked away from a minimum security juvenile group home about 13 months before the killing and had committed numerous probation violations during that time, including alcohol and drug use, unlawful gun possession, and assault. McCullum is now serving a 70-year prison term for murdering Blevins.

In April of 2002, the Department of Social and Health Services, who was responsible for monitoring McCullum, agreed to pay Powell $1.5 million to settle the case. Powell said she would use the money to care for Blevins' two children, one of whom has severe emotional problems as a result of the murder. Powell was represented by Tacoma attorneys Thaddeus Martin and John Connelly.

The final case was brought by the estate of Carolyn Killaby, who vanished on November 11, 1995. Although Killaby's body was never recovered, her blood was found in a truck driven by Dennis Keith Smith, who was on parole at the time for the 1982 death of his sister. Smith is currently back in prison to complete the 99-year sentence he received for his sister's death before beginning a 70-year term for the Killaby murder.

Killaby's family sued the DOC for failing to supervise Smith pursuant to its own rules and policies. According to Sidney Royer, who represented the family together with her law partner, Mark Leemon, Smith was "on an unassigned caseload" for the last three months of his supervision. The DOC had received a letter from Smith's wife warning that he was dangerous and knew he had committed at least 25 parole violations prior to Killaby's disappearance, but failed to act on the information. The DOC agreed to settle the case on the eve of trial for $2.8 million.

In each of the above cases, lawyers representing the State complained that Washington law unfairly holds corrections agencies responsible for the actions of those on supervision. In an effort to reduce its liability, the DOC recently lobbied the Legislature to grant it statutory immunity in negligent supervision cases and has sought to exempt whole categories of former prisoners from supervision status. To date, the Legislature has not acted on these requests.

Sources: The Everett Herald; The Seattle Times; The National Law Journal

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Related legal cases

Estate of Borden v. State of WA DOC

Wilson v. State of Washington

Case name unknown