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UPDATED: 3 families of fallen officers reportedly drop claims against Pierce County

Post by Adam Lynn / The News Tribune on April 9, 2010 at 11:51 am |
April 9, 2010 5:16 pm

UPDATED: The Seattle Times and Q-13 Fox News are reporting that the estates of Renninger, Richards and Owens will drop their claims against the county altogether, citing the ugly public backlash.

UPDATED: A lawyer for three of the Lakewood police officers’ families told The News Tribune this afternoon he is revising the families’ claims to eliminate any specific dollar figures.

Robert Christie of Seattle said the amount requested on unfiled claim documents shared with the news media Thursday – $182 million – has distracted the community from the true intent of the claims, which is to prompt the Sheriff’s Department to change its policies regarding monitoring the calls of certain jail inmates.

The claims, when filed some time in the next week, will ask now for what is “just and fair,” Christie said.

“We’ve eliminated that as a talking point,” he said of the $182 million figure. “We want to talk about the public safety risk.”

Christie said he is barred from suing for a policy change alone.

Public criticism of the families has been high since they announced they planned to file claims against the county. Many callers to local talk radio stations and people commenting on thenewstribune.com equate the claims to a slap in the face to a community that supported the families in the wake of the shootings.

Pierce County sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said today the county has no plans to change its policy regarding inmate phone calls.

“We have a good policy,” Troyer said.

Authorities only monitor the recorded calls made by jail inmates when they receive information that an inmate is making specific threats against specific people, like witnesses or crime victims, Troyer said. They then can use the calls to make a criminal case against that person, he said.

The fact that the calls are monitored also acts a deterrent to some inmates, Troyer said.

Because the calls Maurice Clemmons made from jail did not mention specific targets, there was nothing the county could have done had they been monitoring his calls, Troyer said.

“Even if we would have heard that stuff, it wouldn’t have changed anything,” he said.

PREVIOUS POST: Kim Renninger, widow of fallen Lakewood police Sgt. Mark Renninger, called the TNT this morning to elaborate on her reasonings for filing a $58 million claim for damages against Pierce County.

Renninger said the intent of the claim is not to enrich her family but to force the county to change its policy in regards to monitoring the calls of inmates in the Pierce County Jail.

“It’s not about the money. I don’t want a penny. I don’t want a dime. Nothing,” Renninger said. “Our intent behind it is to fix a system that is broken.”

Ronda LeFrancois, the sister of fallen officer Ronald Owens, and Kelly Richards, the wife of fallen officer Greg Richards, agreed. The estate of Owens filed a claim seeking $18 million and the Richards estate filed a claim seeking $58 million.

The estate of slain officer Tina Griswold filed a claim seeking $48 million (we incorrectly reported today that the Griswold claim was for $58 million).

Renninger said if  county officials contacted her attorney today and agreed to work on changing the policy, “the lawsuit goes away.”

She said she and the other families decided to file the claims instead of working with the county on policy changes because their initial request for change was rebuffed.

“If this is what it took to get the county’s attention, I think we have it,” LeFrancois told The News Tribune today.

Renninger, LeFrancois, Richards and the relatives of slain officers Tina Griswold contend the county could have and should have done more to keep Maurice Clemmons in custody after he threatened to kill police in calls he made from the Pierce County Jail. Those calls were recorded but never monitored by jail staff.

Sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said Thursday that it would be impossible to monitor the calls of all jail inmates without the addition of dozens more corrections officers.

LeFrancois said the families aren’t asking the jail to monitor every call made by every inmate, only those who are known to be violent and to have made threats. Clemmons threatened to kill jail staffers when he was booked into jail last year.

“We think that would be well worth our tax dollars,” LeFrancois said. “The suspect was under their noses talking about it. We’re wanting changes in these policies.”

If the claim eventually becomes a lawsuit and goes to trial and a jury sees fit to award the families any money, Renninger said they intend to set up a foundation to “pay it back into the community.” Renninger said she doesn’t know exactly who would benefit from the foundation, but the families have discussed youth programs as a possibility.

“I don’t stand to gain anything monetarily from this,” LeFrancois said. “Our lives are forever shattered and changed. I think the only way we can keep going forward if by making changes.”

Renninger said the last thing the families intend was to hurt the community, which supported them in their darkest hours.

“We’re extremely grateful for everything,” she said. “It’s that support that gave us the strength to (file the claim). This is to benefit everybody.”

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