$9 million settlement for fatal mistakes made by Washington State Department of Corrections

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A recent $9 million settlement resulting from the shooting rampage that resulted in six deaths and multiple injuries across Skagit County in 2008 is the cost that Washington State taxpayers will pay for mistakes made by Department of Correction’s staff. Brett Murphy attorney Dean Brett of Brett Murphy, assisted by attorney Gene Moses, represented four of the nine plaintiffs in this tragic and complicated case.

A series of errors led to the rampage.  Isaac Zamora was a mentally ill felon with a criminal record of 25 convictions for various crimes.  Zamora was under the supervision of the Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC). His corrections officer was required by DOC policy to conduct several field visits each month to evaluate Zamora’s living conditions and to ensure that he was abiding by the requirements of his release, including a requirement that he receive mental health treatment.

None of those field visits ever happened. Had they occurred, the corrections officer would have seen that Zamora was stockpiling weapons including several guns, and he would have been arrested and sent to jail as a felon in possession of a firearm.  The corrections officer’s failure to complete field visits allowed Zamora to remain unsupervised as he spiraled down further and further into paranoia and violence. 

Serious mistakes were also made by the Department on a state-wide level. The DOC had recently implemented a new risk assessment program designed to evaluate each offender’s level of threat to the community. The DOC program, which was implemented without adequate testing, initially misclassified over 60% of all felony offenders in the State of Washington. Many offenders who should have been identified as “High Risk Violent”, including Zamora, were misclassified into lower risk and non-violent categories, and given lower levels of supervision.  

This perfect storm blew into Skagit County on September 2, 2008, when Isaac Zamora walked through the neighborhood he had grown up in and gunned down six people.

It was the task of Dean Brett and the team of plaintiffs’ attorneys to unravel and document the circumstances that enabled Zamora to commit the worst murder rampage in Skagit County history. Throughout the five years of investigation, including conducting nearly 100 depositions and amassing thousands of pages of documents, the attorneys were able to demonstrate that the Department of Corrections was grossly negligent and breached its duty to protect the public. Following extensive mediations and negotiations, the Department of Corrections settled the case for $9 million. The case also prompted new policies within the DOC that will help ensure the safety of the general public.

Topics:  Department of Corrections, Mental Illness, Parole, Risk Assessment, Settlement

Published In: Personal Injury Updates

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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