Claim seeks millions from state in deputy's death

The News Tribune

December 4, 2007

The felon who shot to death a King County deputy last year should never have been released from prison, according to a $22 million claim filed against the state.

Tacoma lawyer Jack Connelly, who is representing the widow and 2-year-old son of slain King County sheriff’s deputy Steve Cox, claims prison officials were negligent in the release and supervision of Raymond Porter.

“Our investigation of this file reveals that Porter was improperly released,” Connelly said in a news release. “He should not have been out on the streets and Deputy Cox should be alive and with his family today.”

The claim, a precursor to a lawsuit, was filed Friday. It seeks $10 million to $12 million for Cox’s widow, Maria, and $8 million to $10 million for his son, Bronson.

Spokesmen for the Department of Corrections said the agency generally doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

Porter was released to community supervision in August 2006 and shot Cox less than four months later while the deputy was responding to an incident at a house party in SeaTac. Porter killed himself afterward, according to King County sheriff’s detectives.

Lincoln Beauregard, one of the lawyers working on the Cox family claim, said Porter was released from prison after serving time for a drug-dealing conviction. But prison officials failed to adjust his sentence to take into account a subsequent 33-month sentence for escaping from a Seattle work-release center, Beauregard said.

“Someone, probably at Stafford Creek (Corrections Center near Aberdeen) didn’t do some paperwork,” Beauregard said. Documents obtained from public disclosure requests show the courts did their part by informing prison officials of the additional sentence, he said.

Some of the details of the case appear in a public report that then-Corrections Secretary Harold Clarke delivered to Gov. Chris Gregoire in mid-March. Clarke had his staff conduct an internal investigation after three King County law enforcement officers were killed between August and December last year – all by recently released offenders who were still under prison supervision in their communities.

Cox was the third to die.

At the time, Clarke conceded “These cases were not managed perfectly.” However, he would not say whether his staff was in any way responsible for the officers’ deaths. Clarke left the Washington prison system a week before the Cox claim was filed. He took the top job at the Massachusetts prison system.

“The Department of Corrections has received a copy of the claim filed on behalf of the family of King County Deputy Steve Cox,” prison spokesman Chad Lewis wrote in a release. “The department is concerned for the Cox family and anguishes over this senseless death. The department will work with the Office of the Attorney General on this matter, but routinely does not discuss tort claims at this early stage.”

The state has 60 days to respond to the claim. Thereafter, attorneys for the Cox family can file a lawsuit in court in King County, Beauregard said.

Connelly has a history of winning big judgments against the state. He won a $22.5 million jury verdict in the case of Paula Joyce, who also was killed by a felon still under community supervision by the prison system.

The compilation of incident reports on the three felons involved in last year’s killing led to some policy changes in the prison system and among community corrections officers.

For one, officers, sometimes called probation officers, now must visit the homes of all offenders within 10 days of their release from prison. None of the three felons had in-home visits.

The investigation of Porter also showed he repeatedly tested positive for drug use and missed appointments with his probation officer, but was not sent back to prison, as he could have been.

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JOSEPH TURNER