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Claim says supervision of California Jewish center attacker was lax
Seattle Times staff reporter
OLYMPIA — Four families who say their children were harmed during a 1999 shooting spree at a Jewish center in California — by a man under state supervision in Washington at the time — have filed a $15 million tort claim against the state.
The claim was filed against the state Department of Corrections on Friday. The agency was responsible for supervising Buford Furrow, a self-avowed white supremacist who pleaded guilty to the rampage at the North Valley Jewish Community Center and the murder of postal worker Joseph Ileto.
Furrow is serving a life sentence in prison for the crimes. He was sentenced in 2001.
Furrow confessed to shooting five people, including three children at the Jewish center, before killing Ileto because of the color of his skin.
The claim against the state seeks $3 million each for five children: James Zidell, 13, Joshua Stepakoff, 13, Benjamin Kadish, 12, who were all hit by gunfire; and Joshua Kadish, 16, and Nathan Powers, 11, who were described as being psychologically traumatized.
The claim, which could lead to a lawsuit, contends the Department of Corrections failed to monitor Furrow sufficiently to prevent him from getting the guns he used in the shootings. The agency also failed to obtain his psychiatric records and assess his mental health, and it should have paid more attention to his white-supremacist ties, argues the attorney representing the families.
"There was nothing but red flags and minimal supervision," said Seattle attorney Mike Withey, with the firm of Stritmatter Kessler. "When you combine an avowed white supremacist, hate monger [and] mental patient [with] guns and drugs, I don't know what else you need. It's got all the signs on it."
The claim argues that if the department had adequately supervised Furrow he would have been back in jail or in a mental-health institution and "would not have been able to inflict the hate-filled and grievous injuries."
Glen Anderson, an assistant attorney general handling the case for the state, said the Department of Corrections supervised Furrow in accordance with state law and should not be held liable in this case.
"It's always easy in hindsight to say you should have done something else and you would have discovered this," he said.
Withey said the state has 60 days to review the claim. He hopes the state will agree to meet and settle the case but said his clients are willing to take the case to court if needed.
Anderson said he expects the case will end up in court.
The families decided to file the claim after a separate lawsuit against the gun industry was dismissed in court because of immunity provided by Congress to gun makers, Withey said.
Furrow graduated from Timberline High School in Lacey, Thurston County, in 1979. He once lived in Pend Oreille County with Debra Mathews, widow of Robert Mathews, who founded the neo-Nazi group The Order.
According to law-enforcement accounts at the time, in 1999 Furrow drove to Los Angeles from his home in Washington in a van loaded with weapons. Over a period of days, he allegedly scouted out several Jewish institutions for attack. He settled on the community center.
After firing more than 70 rounds at the center, Furrow left. He then walked up to Ileto, asked him to mail a letter and shot him.
Before the California shooting, Furrow had been charged with felony assault in November 1998. He was sentenced to eight months in jail and was released after serving about five.
After his release, he was placed under court-ordered supervision on condition he not buy or use alcohol, not buy or own a deadly weapon, submit to a search of his home and car, stay away from his victims and keep taking medications he was on.
Information from news services and Seattle Times archives is included in this report.
Andrew Garber: 360-236-8268 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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