Slain Washington Prison Guard’s Family Files Suit

February 3, 2014

The family of a corrections officer killed in January 2011 by an inmate at a Washington state prison in Monroe has sued the state Corrections Department and the prison’s former superintendent. The family of Jayme Biendl contends that system failures helped the inmate commit murder.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in Snohomish County Superior Court is the first time Biendl’s family has publicly criticized the department and former Monroe Correctional Complex Superintendent Scott Frakes, The Daily Herald reported.

Corrections Department spokeswoman Norah West declined comment.

The lawsuit blames the state and Frakes for not doing enough to protect Biendl. It says it was “highly predictable” that safety lapses in the prison “would cause harm to employees.”

Byron Scherf has been sentenced to die for the killing but is appealing his conviction.

When Biendl died, Scherf was serving a life sentence for his violent attacks against women. He had been classified a medium security inmate, allowing him to volunteer in the prison chapel where he killed Biendl.

The family filed a claim with the state in July, saying it was too early to quantify damages but they were expected to exceed $5 million.

In the months before her death, Biendl alerted her superiors to safety issues including inadequate lighting, lack of surveillance cameras and poor radio communications, but her warnings were ignored, the lawsuit said.

“The biggest issue from the get-go has been how in the world was Scherf in the position he was in, where he could be alone with a female officer given his history, which (Corrections Department) knew,” family lawyer Rebecca Roe said Thursday.

The newspaper says an internal investigation and a review by the National Institute of Corrections never answered why Scherf was downgraded to medium security and the state never produced any records documenting the reasons for the change.

Three corrections officers were fired after an internal investigation concluded that they engaged in misconduct, and failed to perform their jobs the night Biendl was killed. However, the state was forced to offer the officers their jobs back after an arbitrator concluded that safety concerns were widespread at the prison, and it was unfair to blame individual employees for an institutional problem.

The lawsuit also faults Frakes for failing to implement adequate systems to ensure that employees were accounted for at the end of their shifts.

The newspaper says changes made at the prison since Biendl’s death include more training, shift changes to increase staffing at peak prison movement times and tighter screening of how inmates are classified and assigned jobs.

Frakes was promoted in 2012 to deputy director of prisons at department headquarters.

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