SEATTLE--(EON: Enhanced Online News)--The parents of a 35-year-old woman killed by an inmate released prematurely from prison today filed a claim against the state on behalf of their daughter’s two children (ages 7 and 13 at the time of her death), according to Peterson Wampold Rosato Luna Knopp. The plaintiffs, Jane and Craig Noel, claim the state was negligent in releasing the habitual felon four months before his court-ordered sentence had been served.
“…not a ‘software glitch.’ It was a failure of leadership.”
Filing a tort claim is a necessary step before a lawsuit can be initiated against the state, and does not ask for a specific monetary award.
On August 10, 2015, Robert Jackson, a violent two-strike felon with more than 30 convictions was released from the Washington Correctional Center in Shelton, four months before his release date of December 6, 2015.
The Washington State Department of Corrections (DOC) later admitted that Jackson was one of more than 3,000 inmates released prematurely due to a series of computer programming and oversight errors.
The record is now clear that in 2002, the DOC incorrectly programmed its sentencing software to award some of its most serious felons with extra “good time” credits, releasing them months and sometimes years before they had served their actual sentences. Worse still, the DOC and the Attorney General’s (AG) office left the problem unaddressed for more than a decade.
On November 11, 2015, when Jackson should have still been serving his sentence, he was seen beating Lindsay Hill, the Noels’ daughter, while recklessly driving his car in Seattle. Shortly afterwards, he crashed just outside her apartment in Bellevue, Wash., smashing Ms. Hill against a steel electrical box, ejecting her from the car and killing her. Hill’s 13-year-old son was one of the first people to find her body.
“It is still unbearable to accept that Lindsay is no longer with us, and we’re even more devastated that our two grandchildren have endured far more than any child – or any person – should ever have to,” said Jane Noel. “We can only hope that by holding the state accountable, we can make sure that no one endures the pain and loss that our family has this past year.”
When the software problem was first brought to the state’s attention in 2012, the AG’s office wrote an internal memo to DOC officials warning that if the state did not fix the systemic sentencing error and an early-released offender killed someone while he should have been serving his sentence, “the DOC would lose such a lawsuit and sustain a lot of monetary damages.”
Despite its own admonishments, the AG’s office recommended against recalculating sentences by hand and the DOC delayed the software fix 16 times. When the issue was publically disclosed on December 22, 2015, the software was still defective and DOC had released thousands of prisoners early, leading to the deaths of at least two victims at the hands of felons who should have been incarcerated on the day of the killings.
In its investigative report about the early release of prisoners, the Washington State Senate Law and Justice Committee declared that “…the mismanagement was systemic, [that] it started at the top levels of state government,” and that it was “…not a ‘software glitch.’ It was a failure of leadership.”
“Lindsay Hill’s death was tragic and eminently preventable,” said Mike Wampold of Peterson Wampold Rosato Luna Knopp, the attorney representing the Noels. “The Department of Corrections and the Attorney General’s office knew about this problem and did nothing — watching as a dangerous, violent two-strike felon like Robert Jackson was released into society prematurely.”
The DOC’s first sentencing errors began in 2002. Due to a programming error made to the DOC’s sentencing program OMNI, prisoners with enhancements ineligible for “good time” credit under state law accumulated it anyways. When the AG’s office was alerted that violent felons were being released early, they did not find the matter “urgent,” writing in the same memo that “a few more months [are] not going to make that much difference.”
“With a violent record and a history of dangerous driving, Jackson was exactly the kind of felon who was a danger to society and should have been confined from the public for the full length of his court-mandated sentence,” Wampold said. “Instead, Lindsay and her children have been left to pay the steepest of prices for the state’s negligence.”
About Peterson Wampold Rosato Luna Knopp:
Peterson Wampold Rosato Luna Knopp was founded in 1973 as a plaintiff’s personal injury firm, and now also covers areas of practice in appellate, commercial litigation, insurance bad faith, construction accidents, and medical malpractice. The firm represents ordinary individuals in extraordinary struggles against other individuals, corporations, insurance companies, and the government to positively impact the lives of clients and hold the powerful accountable. Find more at: www.pwrlk.com