Couch v. State of Washington D.O.C.

Case type: Wrongful death, Government liability
Award: $15.3 million Verdict
Attorneys: Jack Connelly

Case Summary

This case involves the murder of plaintiff Yoshiko Couch by defendant Cecil Emile Davis, who was supposed to be under close supervision by defendant Department of Corrections (DOC). Cecil broke into the Couch residence and murdered Yoshiko. Defendant DOC's community corrections officers failed to supervise Def. Davis for approximately 3 1/2 years resulting in the murder of plaintiff Yoshiko Couch.

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Case Details

Def. Cecil Emile Davis broke in the door of the residence of plaintiffs Yoshiko and Richard Dale Couch in Tacoma, Washington. Davis proceeded to brutally beat and rape Yoshiko Couch, and then smothered her to death with a rag soaked in cleaning solvents. Police found her naked body in the bathtub of her home. Cecil Davis was arrested and charged with the murder of Plff Yoshiko Couch. On February 6th, 1998, a Pierce County jury convicted Cecil Davis of aggravated murder in the first degree. Seven days later, the Court sentenced Davis to death. The investigation after the murder revealed that Def. (DOC) had supervisory responsibility for Davis in the community for the 3 1/2 years before the murder. Davis had been on supervision for a felony in which he had attacked a couple with an ice pick and ordered the woman to remove her clothing, before being chased from the home. He was also placed on probation for stealing and selling an automobile to sustain a crack cocaine habit. Def. DOC records revealed a criminal history of assaultive behavior which included at least nine prior assaults and attacks, including an attack on a two year old child, again with an ice pick.

Davis’ file was stamped “violent offender.” Def.'s DOC officer who prepared his pre-sentence investigative report noted an escalating pattern of violent behavior and a clear need for substance abuse and anger management counseling as well as the history of increasingly violent assaults. From July of 1993 to January 25th of 1997, when Yoshiko Couch was murdered, a period of 3 1/2 years Davis did not report to Def. DOC as required. The community corrections officers (CCOs) directly responsible for supervising him during this period had no contact with him. During this time he killed two women, raped and attempted to kill another and attempted to rape a fourth.

Def. DOC failed to follow statutory law regarding probation supervision and failed to follow its own directives requiring increased supervision due to clear evidence that he was a serious community safety concern. Key to this case was that Def. DOC had not been effective doing any probation supervision monitoring, and had not given any additional attention to the files of violent felons. Despite his violent history, Davis was sent to a “minimum management unit” set up by Def. DOC. Def.'s corrections officers from this unit admitted that they were not doing any supervision and they were not prioritizing dangerous offenders. Def. DOC was relying on a computer to classify offenders and all offenders who plead down to a gross misdemeanor were put into minimum management regardless of whether they are violent or nonviolent, and regardless of whether they were being supervised for other crimes.

Significantly, Def. DOC's officers admitted that their failure to supervise violent offenders was not due to case load but that they had not prioritized. Def.'s CCO who was responsible for supervising Davis stated that violent offenders were given no more attention than people committing petty crimes. Plffs contended that Yoshiko Couch's death occurred as a direct result of Def. DOC's failure to do its job for a period of over 3 1/2 years. Records also show that on 1/29/97, four days after Yoshiko Couch was brutally raped and murdered, a DOC employee began inserting missing entries into the chronological records. Def. DOC went in after the murder of Yoshiko Couch to clean up the file. The actual records had revealed that no one at Def. DOC was monitoring Davis. The final omissions leading directly to Yoshiko's death occurred in late 1996. Davis did not report to the Lakewood DOC office when he was released from a jail stint on 11/19/96. The Tacoma office of Def. DOC did nothing to track Davis' time in jail, did not track his release, and did not follow up or move for a bench warrant when he failed to report to the Lakewood office. Tacoma police notified Def. DOC that they wanted to serve Davis with a warrant for an assault and attempted rape before he was released. Def. DOC misadvised the police about his release date and did nothing in light of the fact he was a suspect in an adult rape.

Plff Yoshiko Couch's death was a result of the failure of Def. DOC to follow its own directives and to take action when confronted with direct evidence that Davis was an extreme danger to the community.