Utah crime victims sue state agencies after they say violent offenders were wrongfully released, improperly monitored

The plaintiffs’ stories are “horrific and frightening,” said a lawyer representing them.

(Kolbie Peterson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Clarence Newman, one of the plaintiffs named in a lawsuit filed Monday against state corrections officials, sits in the law office of Robert Sykes in Salt Lake City on Monday, May 1, 2023, as he describes when a man broke into his and his wife's home and burned it down.

A group of Utah crime victims and their families are suing state corrections officials for “gross negligence” and “willful misconduct,” alleging that violent offenders were wrongfully placed on parole or probation, then improperly monitored, allowing the offenders to commit “avoidable” crimes.

Robert Sykes, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs, said at a news conference Monday at his Salt Lake City law office that his clients’ stories are “horrific and frightening.”

Filed Monday in 3rd District Court, the 47-page complaint details crimes such as homicide, arson and sexual assault that happened after offenders were allegedly wrongly released from prison, then weren’t properly supervised, violating the victims’ constitutional rights.

Four of the plaintiffs named in the lawsuit — Linda Nemelka, Shandon Scott, Farrell Bartschi and Sandra Robles — were all killed by men who had violated their parole, the complaint states. The victims’ family members spoke on their behalf Monday, often pausing as they choked up with emotion.

Members of Utah Adult Probation & Parole, which is overseen by the Utah Department of Corrections, also “falsified reporting and paperwork to cover up the mistakes and failures,” according to the lawsuit.

The corrections department and Utah Adult Probation & Parole didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Monday afternoon.

A father shot on a walk

When Farrell Bartschi was shot to death while on a morning walk in October 2021, he was a healthy 82-year-old who’d gone on similar walks at about 7 a.m. every day for years, his daughter Kim Dixon said Monday.

After Noel Munoz Lopez allegedly shot Bartschi in the torso, Lopez’s family came out of the house and confronted him, but Lopez drove off. Lopez’s relatives attempted to render aid to Bartschi, but he was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police documents state that the shooting happened while Lopez was on parole, and that Bartschi was a “total stranger” to him. Lopez is also listed as a restricted person due to previous convictions of “at least four violent felonies,” including attempted homicide.

“I have no doubt that he would still be with us if [Utah Adult Probation & Parole] would have done their job,” Bartschi’s daughter said Monday.

A daughter found dead in a car

Among the other plaintiffs present at the news conference Monday was Marjorie Charles-Scott, who spoke through tears as she described her daughter Shandon Nicole Scott. The 32-year-old was found shot to death in a car on Interstate 80 in May 2021.

The lawsuit alleges that the Utah Board of Pardons & Parole allowed the suspected perpetrator, Terrence Vos, out of prison on early release. He and Scott had dated before his incarceration.

Before he went to prison, Vos had been convicted of multiple firearms offenses, according to the lawsuit. During his sentence, he attacked another prisoner, the complaint states.

When Vos was released, an ankle monitor was placed on him, the complaint notes, but Adult Probation & Parole didn’t use it to properly supervise him.

Vos attacked Scott in October and November of 2020, breaking her leg. Both assaults were reported to police, but Vos was never contacted or arrested by Adult Probation & Parole, the lawsuit states.

Months later, Vos allegedy shot Scott, then placed her in a car before crashing the vehicle on I-80.

No defendant named in the complaint had immediately filed a response as of Monday afternoon.

According to Sykes, the lawsuit may grow to include more plaintiffs, should more come forward. Anyone interested may contact Sykes’ law office by calling 801-533-0222.