Appeals court dismisses suit filed by family of slain Graham couple
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a lawsuit against Massachusetts officials in the 2007 slayings by convicted killer Daniel Tavares.
Seattle Times staff reporter
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday reversed a Tacoma federal judge and dismissed a civil-rights lawsuit filed by the family of a Graham, Pierce County, couple slain in 2007 by a convicted killer who they claim was negligently released from prison in Massachusetts.
The families of Brian and Beverly Mauck, who were shot to death by avowed white supremacist Daniel Tavares Jr. over an alleged $50 debt, had sued Massachusetts officials in federal court alleging the officials were negligent in failing to issue a national warrant for Tavares, now 49, even though they knew he was wanted and dangerous.
Just before his release in June 2007, Tavares was charged in Massachusetts with assaulting two prison guards. Because of a paperwork snafu during his arraignment, he was released on his own recognizance, according to court records.
Before officials realized the mistake, Tavares had moved to Washington to marry a pen pal. Rather than seeking his extradition from across the country, according to documents in the court file, Massachusetts officials issued a warrant that was good only in surrounding states.
The lawsuit alleges the Massachusetts officials were negligent because they knew Tavares was dangerous — he had threatened the life of then-Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney — and did not do enough to stop him from killing again.
U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton last year ruled immunity did not apply and declined to dismiss the lawsuit. The issue was appealed by Massachusetts officials to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
On Monday, a three-member panel of the appeals court — including Chief Judge Alex Kozinski — held that Massachusetts officials are entitled to "absolute immunity" from liability for decisions that are so closely related to the criminal-justice system. Prosecutors and, to some degree, police generally cannot be held civilly liable for decisions that often involve difficult judgment calls and decisions based on developing information, according to the court.
"The decision whether to extradite, like the decision whether to prosecute, 'involves a balance of myriad factors, including culpability, prosecutorial resources and public interest,' " the unanimous panel wrote.
"Defendants are entitled to absolute immunity to the extent they participated in making the extradition decision described in plaintiff's complaint," the judges wrote.
Tavares was released from prison in Massachusetts in June 2007 after serving more than 15 years for killing his mother. After meeting a woman through an online inmate pen-pal service, Tavares married her and moved to Graham, where they lived in a trailer on property owned by her family.
On Nov. 17, 2007, he shot 30-year-old Brian Mauck with a .22-caliber handgun because of a $50 debt over a tattoo. Beverly Mauck, 28, also was killed.
Tavares pleaded guilty to the killings in 2008 and is serving a life sentence.
An investigation after the Maucks were killed revealed that Massachusetts corrections officials could have kept Tavares behind bars for nearly a year longer had they filled out paperwork documenting his prison assaults.
Massachusetts authorities also failed to turn Tavares over to the Florida Department of Corrections on an outstanding warrant or to immediately notify Washington state law-enforcement officials when they learned he had moved to Graham, investigators found.
The family sought between $16 million and $20 million in damages.
Mike Carter: 206-464-3706 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Information from The Seattle Times archives is contained in this report.