Jury Returns $4.5 Million Verdict against CA Department of Corrections
Nearly six years after the rape and murder of a 76-year-old California grandmother, the civil lawsuit her family filed against the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation is still pending in the California Court of Appeals. In June 2018, a California jury quietly handed down a $4.5 million verdict against CDCR for what the lawsuit alleges was negligence on behalf of state officials.
Co-counsels Reed Morgan of The Carlson Law Firm and California attorney Ken Maleyco obtained the $4.5 million verdict against CDCR, which was the outcome of a lawsuit filed in August 2013 after repeat violent offender Jerome DeAvila raped and murdered his own grandmother in February 2013.
The suit, filed by DeAvila’s uncle, Steven Russell Sr., claimed that officials were negligent in their monitoring and handling of Jerome DeAvila. DeAvila’s 20-year rap-sheet included domestic violence, sexual assault, and assault on a police officer.
How did the CDCR Fail Rachael Russell?
In February 2013, Rachael Russell, a 76-year-old pillar of her community, was raped and murdered by her 40-year-old grandson, Jerome DeAvila. DeAvila had a lengthy criminal history including sex crimes, drug abuse, and violence. He also suffered from paranoid Schizophrenia and experienced delusions and hallucinations. His mental condition led to him being held in a state mental hospital.
Eventually, a state court judge allowed DeAvila to leave the hospital. Upon his release, the parole agency made a series of negligent decisions. For one, despite his history of threats against his grandmother, his parole stipulations allowed him to stay with her during the day. Second, the agency failed to read two reports that a psychologist issued regarding DeAvila’s mental condition prior to his release. If the agency followed protocol, they would have known that doctors believed DeAvila was too dangerous to leave the hospital.
As a result, the agency failed to warn Ms. Russell of both his release and his mental condition.
This same parole agency employed agents who sometimes shared coffee with Ms. Russell on her porch. These affirmative acts from the parole agents helped attorneys prove that parole agents knew of a foreseeable risk of harm and a legal duty to warn Ms. Russell.
Who was Rachael Russell?
Rachael Russell was a 76-year old mother, grandmother, and former nurse. She was a model citizen who was referred to as “Mother Racheal” by those who loved her. She was known for cooking and bringing food to the elderly, served as the administrator of her church, was a foster parent, and according to attorneys of the family, even received accolades from President Obama.
Russell raised her grandson, DeAvila, from the time he was young.
Why should the CDCR have warned Ms. Russell?
DeAvila did not believe that he was mentally ill. As a result, he failed to take medication worsening his mental condition.
“The psychologist reports showed that he was paranoid schizophrenic,” Morgan said. “He was highly dangerous and experienced delusions, hallucinations and homicidal and suicidal ideations. Without his medication, he was a loose cannon.”
Despite DeAvila’s history of making threats against Ms. Russell, California corrections officials failed to put a GPS tracking device on him or warn his grandmother of his release.
Another way the parole agency failed was allowing his presence in his grandmother’s home during the day. However, he was not allowed to sleep there. This was because her home was less than 2000 feet from a school and he was a convicted sex offender.
On Feb. 13, 2013, officers arrested DeAvila for a parole violation. He spent one week in the San Joaquin County Jail before being released early from custody. It was at this point that parole agents failed to warn Ms. Russell of her grandson’s release.
It was this early release and the county’s failure to warn Ms. Russell that he was out of jail that led to the civil lawsuit. Just 10 months after a judge allowed his release from the prison psychiatric hospital, 12 parole violation arrests and six days after his release from the San Joaquin County Jail, DeAvila raped and beat his grandmother to death.
Neighbors discovered Ms. Russell’s body in a wheelbarrow in her backyard. Officers found DeAvila hours later under the influence of drugs and wearing his grandmother’s jewelry.
The Carlson Law Firm Can Help
Filing a civil action against a state government is no easy feat. It requires extensive experience from a qualified trial attorney. If you or a loved one were hurt because of the negligent acts of a state agency, call The Carlson Law Firm. We have the skills and resources to help you through a difficult time in your life—particularly when you feel like you have no options.
- Written by Kazia Conway