The mother of a 17-year-old killed last year in Spokane, allegedly by an inmate who had been mistakenly released early from prison, has filed a $5 million claim against the state.
Veronica Medina-Gonzalez submitted the claim seeking compensation in Ceasar Medina’s death less than 24 hours after Gov. Jay Inslee announced that an investigation revealed incompetence and failed management led to the early release of more than 3,000 prisoners from state custody. The mistake was due to an ongoing computer error that wasn’t corrected until at least three years after it was discovered.
“Ceasar Medina was killed by a man that should have been incarcerated, but was in fact wrongly released by the DOC due to a known computer ‘glitch,’ ” says the claim, prepared by a Seattle law firm. “Rather than fix the problem immediately, DOC allowed the problem to go unfixed for years.”
Jeremiah A. Smith, 26, has been charged with first-degree murder in Medina’s death. Medina was shot May 26 in the neck and chest at the former site of Northwest Accessories, 3400 N. Monroe St., during what witnesses described as a robbery attempt gone awry. The 17-year-old died despite first responders’ efforts at the scene of the shooting.
Smith, who is being held in the Spokane County Jail in lieu of $1 million bond, is scheduled to stand trial for the killing in June. He was released from state custody 12 days before the shooting, but he should have been released Aug. 10, the Department of Corrections reported.
Jeremy Barclay, a spokesman for the Department of Corrections, declined to comment on the claim’s filing but pointed to a statement issued by then-Corrections Secretary Dan Pacholke expressing remorse for the death.
“I’m heartsick that this tragedy occurred at all, much less during the time in which Jeremiah Smith should have been incarcerated,” Pacholke said in the Dec. 31 statement, after speaking with Medina-Gonzalez.
Pacholke resigned amid political pressure earlier this month.
Bruce Lemon, a case manager with the state’s Office of Risk Management, said the state has 60 days after the filing of the claim to investigate before Medina-Gonzalez can file a lawsuit.
Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, said he wasn’t surprised a claim had been filed by the family.
“I know there’s some liability,” said Padden, chairman of the Senate Law and Justice Committee, which is conducting one of two state investigations into the early releases. “I figured something would be coming.”
The committee has not investigated the extent of that liability, Padden said, but previous wrongful death lawsuits against the state have been as high as $9 million.
“This is part of the reason why both investigations are trying to find out what happened and get some reforms,” he said. The governor’s office released its report Thursday on mistakes that led to the early releases, although investigators said they still have about 16,000 documents they need to review.
At the news conference releasing that report, Inslee declined to comment on the state’s liability for crimes committed by inmates who were released before they had served their sentences. That would be a matter for the state attorney general, he said.
Peter Lavalle, a spokesman for the Washington attorney general’s office, said in a written statement Friday that his office had not yet received the Medina-Gonzalez complaint. The liability to the state would be specific to each case, Lavalle said, and each case’s negotiations would be privileged. He did not provide an estimate of how much the Corrections Department error could cost the state.
Staff writer Jim Camden contributed to this report.
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