The first time that convicted felon Ahmet Hopovac asked the Department of Corrections to let him leave Grant County for Idaho was in January 2011. He argued he was homeless and didn’t have any money.
The second time he asked for help was because the Pocos Locos, a well-known gang in the area, were after him. He again wanted to leave the state, fearing he could get hurt, or worse.
But because he failed to show up to numerous community supervision meetings, officials denied his request.
Months later, his fears were realized. On May 24, 2011 he was tortured by a group of Pocos Locos gang members in a Moses Lake home. They pulled out his toe nails with pliers and tried to chop off several fingers with an axe, according to court documents.
That’s when Hopovac stopped asking for help.
Instead, he filed a lawsuit against the department and one of its supervisors, arguing they owed him protection from assault while he was under community supervision. It also argued the department should have allowed him to purchase a gun.
A state judge disagreed. And this week his appeal failed.
So he appealed. And on Valentine’s Day this year, he lost. Again. But this time, one of the three judges agreed that the department should have allowed him to leave.
“I was very happy that they understood our argument,” said Hopovac’s attorney Breean Beggs, a Spokane city councilman. “And they adopted, for the most part, our arguments that the department does have a duty that when they’re restricting someone, they have to take appropriate actions to protect him.”
The judges argued that even though Hopovac was not allowed to own a gun – which was a result of him being a felon, not the fault of the department, they noted – he could still report threats to law enforcement, carry a weapon other than a gun and still move around the county.
The judges referred to these as “normal opportunities for protection.”
But that’s where Judge George Fearing, one of the three judges on the case, drew the line. In his dissenting opinion, he criticized the majority’s finding that the department had no obligation to protect Hopovac because of the community custody condition prohibiting travel outside of Grant County.
“Because of a sheltered, privileged life and because of a large, formerly athletic frame, I have never needed or sought protection form a mob, a gang, an angry spouse, or anyone wishing to physically harm me,” the judge wrote. “Nevertheless, from my decades of reading newspapers, I know that mafia snitches must often escape their respective communities and assume another identity.”
Beggs, plans to appeal to the Washington State Supreme Court.
He said the chances the court would grant review are more likely than others because a judge dissented in part, and because case was breaking new ground. He said it’s the first he knows of that challenges the Department of Corrections’ duty in protecting felons on parole under its supervision.
“Regardless of what side people are on, this is the first case in the nation that really has to do with this.,” he said. “This case is a completely new area of law. All of the judges agree on that.”
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