ILNews

Suit against Vanderburgh County dismissed

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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A federal judge in Indianapolis has dismissed a suit against Vanderburgh County that claimed county officials were responsible for a 2005 triple murder-suicide by an inmate on work release.

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker issued a 13-page order dismissing the federal complaint Christine Sandage, et al. v. Board of Commissioners of Vanderburgh County, Indiana, et al. The suit stems from the deaths of Sheena Sandage-Shofner, Alfonzo Small, and Tara Jenkins, who were fatally shot almost three years ago by Travis Moore. He was serving a four-year sentence for a robbery conviction and was on work release, which allowed him to leave the correctional center periodically under supervision.

A month before her death, Sandage-Shofner warned the county sheriff's department by telephone that Moore had been harassing her at times he was supposed to be at work. The county did not revoke Moore's work release privileges, and after the murders and his suicide, the families of Sandage-Shofner and Small sued the county for contributing to their deaths.

Filing a state and a federal suit in April 2007, the families sought unspecified damages on grounds that the defendants' failure to revoke Moore's work release "created a danger... that would not otherwise have existed."

Judge Barker disagreed, finding that the victims had no constitutional right to police protection from violent crimes in this case and, if they had, the defendants' failure to respond to complaints and remove Moore from work release did not result in a constitutional injury.

She relied on a recent 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in King v. East St. Louis School District 189, 496 F.3d 812 (7th Cir. 2007), which set out a three-part balancing test to prove whether a state-created danger existed. Plaintiffs fell short of complying with that standard, the judge wrote, and granted a motion to dismiss the claims.

None of the parties disputed that the county was acting according to state law when they determined Moore could be put on work release, and Judge Barker declined to exercise jurisdiction on those claims.

Now, those same issues will play out in Vanderburgh Circuit Court on the negligence claims. The parties had held off on the trial court case while the federal suit was pending.
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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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