Corrections officer Jayme Biendl’s family settles lawsuit with state
MONROE - The parents of slain corrections officer Jayme Biendl settled their lawsuit with the state Department of Corrections last week.
The state agreed to pay $900,000 to settle, according to state Attorney General’s Office records obtained by the Herald.
Biendl’s family opened their lawsuit Jan. 28 this year, a day before the third anniversary of Biendl’s death in the Washington State Reformatory, a unit of the Monroe Correctional Complex.
A statement from the family said “there is no amount of money that can replace the loss” their family endured from her death.
Key components to the lawsuit were based on allegations that negligence in prison safety led to Biendl’s strangulation death by three-strikes rapist Byron Scherf in the prison’s chapel. Reports on the prison system’s safety prompted by her death by national prison authorities showed numerous deficiencies including lapses in protocol that were seen as potentially dangerous to the corrections officers.
The Jan. 28 lawsuit did not specify damages but a prior claim by the family against the state Department of Corrections (DOC) was estimated to exceed $5 million in damages.
Her family was represented by attorney Rebecca Roe, who has won major cases against the state.
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, the prison’s former superintendent told media 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.
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.
Scherf was sentenced with the death penalty, however after Gov. Jay Inslee’s unilateral suspension to capital punishment in this state last month, Scherf’s fate is steadfastly on hold.
All corrections officers systemwide now carry pepper spray and, at the Washington State Reformatory, body alarms. Biendl was equipped with a radio and panic button at the time of her death, but that equipment was found thrown across the stage when 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.
The DOC also now has equipped the chapel and surrounding area with cameras. There were none when Biendl died.
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