Joyce v. State of Washington D.O.C. ($22.4 million verdict)

Case type: Government liability, wrongful death
Award: $22.4 million Verdict
Attorneys: Jack Connelly

Case Summary

Plaintiff Paula Joyce, mother, physical therapist and athletic trainer with the University of Puget Sound, was murdered by a felon on community service supervision named Valdez Stewart. After stealing a Chevrolet suburban in Seattle, defendant Stewart exited HWY 16 and sped down Union Avenue going 65 to 90 miles per hour, without stopping for traffic signs or lights and struck Joyce’s vehicle (Union Avenue is a residential street with a speed limit of 30 m.p.h.). Her small truck rolled over several times, and Ms. Joyce died at the scene. Def. Stewart had committed over 100 violations of the courts conditions for community service, and had committed additional crimes, while supposedly under supervision, including a felony automobile theft. Def. DOC failed to adequately supervise Def. Stewart resulting in Plff Joyce's untimely death.

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Case Details

Def. Stewart was supposed to have been under supervision by the Department of Corrections (DOC) on two separate felony charges at the time he killed the Mrs. Joyce. An investigation after her death and during trial revealed, however, that the DOC had not been following its own department directives relating to the supervision but had allowed Def. Stewart to virtually ignore the conditions imposed by the Court for 2 months. He committed over 100 violations of these conditions, and committed additional crimes.

Def. Stewart liked to steal cars and drive them fast. Def. Stewart was particularly adept at stealing Chevrolet vehicles as he knew how to break the steering column and start them with a screwdriver. Def. Stewart committed a felony in Kittitas County by stealing a Chevrolet and speeding down the road.

DOC failed to report this felony to the King County Court. Def. Stewart was also having serious problems with mental stability. Judge Passette in King County ordered a release so that DOC could get his medical records. However, DOC failed to follow through and get the records. These records revealed that Def. Stewart was becoming increasing psychotic. He was suffering from visual and auditory hallucinations, was improperly medicating with his mother's medications as well as illegal drugs and was becoming dangerous. People he lived with described him as dangerously psychotic, pacing, and spitting at night, setting fires within the home, destroying property, stabbing at walls with knifes, cutting up his clothing, etc.

At the point Def. Stewart was becoming dangerously psychotic, Def. DOC had an obligation to see him on a weekly basis but, instead, quit monitoring him altogether. Def. Stewart's supervising community corrections officer (CCO) was required to leave the country because her visa expired and the unit supervisor then turned Def. Stewart's file over to a new, untrained CCO without even looking to see that Def. Stewart was completely out of compliance with the conditions of his release. Def. Stewart's original release was supposed to have given only one extra chance. Def. DOC gave him over 100 “extra chances.”

Eventually, Def. Stewart learned that he could completely ignore DOC without any concern that DOC would do anything about it. Def. Stewart refused to follow Court orders and even refused to provide his address to DOC Despite the fact that these were also major violations of his release DOC did nothing about it. Def. Stewart was allowed to thumb his nose at DOC with impunity, and did so repeatedly. Five months before Paula Joyce was killed, Def. Stewart made his final contact with Def.'s DOC representative. Def. Stewart reported two more times after that, but nobody from DOC was even there to see him so he quit reporting altogether. Plff contended that during this same period, his psychoses was becoming increasingly severe. DOC still had not followed the Court order to obtain Def.'s medical records. On the morning of 8/8/97. Def. Stewart was severely psychotic, hallucinating and hearing voices. Def. Stewart stole another Chevrolet vehicle, a Suburban, in Seattle and drove at high rates of speed. August, 1997