A judge has dismissed a rape victim’s lawsuit against the Utah County Sheriff’s Office, as well as two companies allegedly affiliated with the county jail’s work-release program.
The victim of a June 2010 beating and rape near the Provo River Trail sued the county, its sheriff’s office, and the companies for failing to screen and supervise the inmate who perpetrated the crime. Shawn Michael Leonard, 35, was sentenced last year to life in prison without the possibility of parole for attacking the then-19-year-old woman after walking off the job site of a jail work-release program.
The lawsuit filed in 4th District Court alleged if Leonard had been properly screened by the defendants, he would have not been eligible for work-release because of his "extensive criminal history." But Judge David Mortensen decided there is no special relationship between the defendants and the victim as opposed to any other member of the public, and there is generally no duty for the defendants to control the actions of a third party — in this case, Leonard.
"[She] has failed to demonstrate, and the Court is unaware of any Utah precedent that clearly establishes a fundamental right to be free from physical harm inflicted by others... when a private citizen is harmed by another private citizen," Mortensen wrote.
Mortensen also decided that the agencies could not have known the kind of harm Leonard inflicted on her. None of the alleged lapses in the defendants’ procedures, such as failing to properly screen Leonard or promptly report violations, change how Leonard set himself apart "in terms of dangerousness" or how the custodians could have known what he would do, Mortensen wrote.
"We’re really disappointed," said the victim’s lawyer, Joe Stultz. He lamented that Mortensen dismissed the case outright before he’d had a chance to obtain more records concerning Leonard or investigate the extent of prior escapes that should have been cause for the defendants to change their program accordingly.
An inside source told Stultz that there had been escapes prior to Leonard’s, and given that these had occurred before, what happened to his client was "entirely foreseeable" and did not have to occur, he said.
"Rather than picking inmates that were appropriate, my source told me that he was concerned because the jail was dipping further and further into the population based on local business’ demand [for labor]," Stultz said.
He intends to appeal the case to the Utah Supreme Court, where such discovery might be possible.
"We’re 100 percent behind our client," he said. "This is an important issue for any Utah County person."
Prior to the attack, Leonard was found eligible for work-release privileges by county jail personnel and was placed by Intermountain Staffing to work at a Lindon manufacturing company called Universal Industrial Sales, Inc., according to the lawsuit. The Salt Lake Tribune has chosen not to name the plaintiff because she was the victim of a sexual assault.
On June 9, 2010, the victim was writing in a notebook near the Provo River when Leonard approached and asked her for money, according to her testimony during Leonard’s preliminary hearing.
When the victim said she had no money, Leonard demanded she get on the ground. The woman testified that Leonard then choked her until she lost consciousness. Prosecutors said Leonard at some point bashed the woman’s face with a cinder block, and that she awoke to find her pants and underwear below her knees and her bra pulled up, according to preliminary hearing testimony.
Police linked Leonard to the crime, in part, because his jail-issued ankle bracelet was found near the crime scene. Leonard later pleaded guilty to two counts of aggravated kidnapping, aggravated robbery and attempted aggravated murder, all first-degree felonies.
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