Biendl family sues DOC, alleges prison negligence
MONROE - The family of slain Monroe corrections officer Jayme Biendl is suing the state Department of Corrections and the former superintendent of the Monroe prison on claims that negligent systemic failures led to her death.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, Jan. 28 in Snohomish County Superior Court, does not specify damages. The family, though, submitted a claim in July that gave a preliminary estimate the damages would exceed $5 million, the Herald reported.
Biendl was murdered in the chapel of the Washington State Reformatory Jan. 29, 2011 just before she finished her shift.
Byron Sherf, a three-strikes rapist, later admitted to strangling Biendl, 34, in a premeditated attack. He was sentenced with the death penalty last year by a jury.
In reviews after Biendl’s death, the state Department of Labor and Industries and other external reviews of the prison found systemic lapses in safety protocols under then-superintendent Scott Frakes.
The family is suing on allegations that both these lapses in safety and the DOC’s permissive treatment of Scherf inside the prison were tantamount to negligence. Prison reports called Scherf a “model prisoner” yet one report noted he is a danger to women. He was downgraded to medium security prison allegedly without reason and was given jobs in the prison and volunteer duties at the chapel.
The lawsuit asks, simply, how a repeat rapist who was documented as a danger to women was permitted to volunteer in the chapel with a female corrections officer who worked alone.
Biendl, who took the solo post at the chapel, told managers of safety concerns but was ignored. The chapel was a solo job for a decade before Biendl started, Frakes said previously.
Some of her documented concerns included the lack of cameras in the chapel, which officials said there was no money to buy. Officers’ camera requests were denied regularly all the way back to the 1980s, one former sergeant told the Tribune previously.
External reviews found lapses in protocol. The night of Biendl’s murder, one officer was out of position during the shift. Another officer assumed the chapel was clear and that Biendl had completed her shift, which may have led to officers not looking for Biendl until much later.
A corrections sergeant failed to address that particular officer’s habit of being out of position during his shifts.
These two officers and the sergeant were fired over failures to perform their duties, but the state was later forced to offer the officers their jobs back last July after an arbitrator determined the failures were because of the systemic lapses at the prison.
The arbitrator found that “institutional complacency” that had developed over time within the reformatory also contributed to the circumstances that led to the murder.
Attorney Rebecca Roe is representing the Biendl family. Roe is the sister of longtime Snohomish County prosecutor Mark Roe.
Biendl’s death was the first officer death in the prison system since 1979. Her death marked a watershed moment for corrections officer safety within the Department of Corrections.
The DOC was fined for lapses in labor practice by the state Labor and Industries Department, and members of the National Institute of Corrections, a branch of the U.S. Department of Justice, were flown in to evaluate the 2,500-inmate complex.
The DOC says it began implementing 15 prison improvement recommendations from the NIC soon afterward, with the last improvements implemented last year.
The 15 recommendations included retraining officers and tightly enforcing protocols.
At the Washington State Reformatory, the medium-security unit of the prison where Biendl was murdered, the DOC has a pilot program that equips all officers with body alarms. The body alarms alert prison managers which officer activated the alarm and where they are located in the prison.
All corrections officers systemwide also now carry pepper spray. Biendl was equipped with a radio and panic button at the time of her death, but that equipment was found thrown across the stage around the time officers searched the chapel and found her body.
New protocols now limit prisoners from holding the same job for more than two years to prevent corrections officers from becoming familiar or complacent with the prisoners they regularly interact with, DOC spokeswoman Ruth Clemens said last month.
The DOC also now has equipped the chapel and surrounding area with cameras, Clemens said. There were none when Biendl died. Her body was found behind a stage.
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