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Washington State Parolee Murders Girlfriend; Department of Corrections Found Not Grossly Negligent

by Ed Lyon

 Scottye Miller served two misdemeanor sentences, one “memorialized in a felony judgment” for harassing and assaulting his girlfriend of many years, entered in 2010 and 2011. Miller was released from the Department of Corrections (DOC) for community supervision on October 15, 2012. Among the many of his release conditions, Miller was not to contact his former paramour, Tricia Patricelli.

A DOC victim services’ liaison contacted Patricelli to inform her of Miller’s release and was assured Patricelli was moving and would contact police if Miller tried to contact her. After Miller’s release, his mother verified in writing that he was living with her even though he had reunited with Patricelli, who also lied to the DOC to hide the fact of their renewed cohabitation.

Fifteen days after Miller’s release, he murdered Patricelli. Patricelli’s mother sued the DOC for damages, claiming gross negligence by the DOC in its supervision of Miller. A trial court granted the DOC summary judgment. The appeal court reversed, pointing out three things the DOC did not do that might have uncovered the cohabitation subterfuge. Review was granted in Washington’s supreme court.

The supreme court reversed, upholding the trial court’s summary judgment grant, pointing out the appeal court’s failure to list the many efforts by the DOC, including the liaison’s notice to Patricelli of Miller’s release to ensure Miller did not have any opportunity to assault her again.

In Washington, gross negligence only occurs if a defendant fails to exercise a level of slight care. In this case, the DOC’s actions regarding Miller’s release did not fall below the slight care level, thus the appeal court’s judgment was reversed and the earlier summary judgment granted to the DOC was upheld.

See: Harper v. Washington Dep’t of Corr., Case No. 95511-5, (WA S.Ct., 2018 en banc)

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Related legal case

Harper v. Washington Department of Corrections