A woman who was assaulted by her estranged husband, a Yakima County sheriff’s deputy who was on duty at the time, has reached a $250,000 settlement with the county.
The settlement stems from a $10 million claim filed against the county last year by Michelle Moore, who was assaulted in October 2010 by her estranged husband, Sean Moore. Her claim and subsequent lawsuit said sheriff’s office supervisors were negligent in the hiring of her husband and failed to properly supervise him. Sean Moore later hanged himself in jail while awaiting sentencing for the assault.
Sean Moore, 37 at the time, was facing at least 10 years in prison for assaulting his estranged wife and a male companion in her Selah home while he was in uniform and on duty. He returned later the same day and attacked her again.
Michelle Moore’s attorney, Bill Pickett, said sheriff’s officials could have prevented the second attack had supervisors properly investigated the first disturbance rather than accepting Sean Moore’s version of the incident and failing to check on Michelle Moore’s welfare.
Yakima County Commissioner Mike Leita said although the settlement avoided costly litigation fees, it has caused concern among commissioners about how the sheriff’s office is being run.
Problems such as this are recurring, he said.
In 2008, the county awarded $242,000 to a Sunnyside family after deputies raided the wrong house in a theft investigation. Last year, $373,000 was awarded to a sheriff’s deputy for back pay after an arbitrator found she’d been wrongfully fired and ordered her reinstated.
In the Moore case, Pickett filed the lawsuit in Yakima County Superior Court in June after the county didn’t respond to the tort claim.
Pickett said Sean Moore had a propensity for violence and that sheriff’s officials knew it. According to Selah police, who responded to the assault, Michelle Moore said her husband had become increasingly aggressive and abusive after wounding a man in an on-duty shooting in 2004. In that incident, Moore shot and wounded a driver who rammed his patrol car while fleeing a minor traffic accident outside Selah. The driver shot at Moore and another deputy before they returned fire. Both deputies were awarded the department’s Medal of Valor for their response.
Yakima County Sheriff Ken Irwin said he supported the settlement and admitted Monday that his department made a mistake by not checking on Michelle Moore.
“We acknowledged that the sergeant probably should have called or stopped by to check on her, and that wasn’t done and we accept that part of it,” Irwin said.
But Irwin added that his office previously had handled many domestic issues — none involving physical altercations — between the couple, and that Michelle Moore would often recant complaints. Irwin said his office even sent the couple to a psychologist.
“We were just devastated that after all that work that we did in trying to help them, that this happened,” he said.
Also named as a defendant was Sgt. Jeff Gillespie, who Pickett blamed for taking Sean Moore’s version of the first incident at face value and failing to check on Michelle Moore. Gillespie was counseled on the matter and remains with the sheriff’s office, Irwin said.
Pickett, who initially sought $10 million in the claim, said he was satisfied with the settlement and that Michelle Moore merely wanted the sheriff’s office to acknowledge its mistake. He said it’s not unusual for initial claim amounts to be much higher than actual settlements.
“I think they made a wise decision to get the case resolved and were blessed by my client’s desire to move forward and put this behind her,” Pickett said. “I think the county should feel fortunate that she’s a real nice lady and wanted to resolve it and move on.”