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Mark Bello
Mark Bello
Attorney • (877) 377-7848

Get Tough on Sex Offenders. Fight to Protect Our Children

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A King County judge has dismissed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the city of Tacoma, Pierce County and the state of Washington by the family of a girl who was kidnapped and murdered by a sex offender four years ago during a fireworks display behind her home.

The lawsuit alleged:

  • the county and state negligently supervised a sex offender after a prior conviction for a sex crime; had they done their duty, the sex offender would have been deported after his first sex offense.
  • the city mishandled issuing an Amber Alert because the on-duty police officer fell back to sleep instead of issuing the alert.
  • that Child Protective Services and the Sheriff’s Department did not do enough to investigate a claim of child abuse made against the sex offender in the years before he killed the girl.
  • the government tried to hide its mistakes.

According to plaintiff attorney, Tyler Firkins, the original purpose of the case was two-fold.

To expose the significant errors and omissions that resulted in girl’s death and to change the laws regarding the various agencies and their duties to protect children and the public.

To create a higher duty of care for Child Protective Services and law enforcement when it comes to protecting children.

Sadly, it appears the little girl was dead within minutes of her disappearance, thus an Amber Alert would have been pointless. But, that was not the point; it was not whether the government entities had a right to protect the child, but rather whether they were negligent in releasing the Amber Alert in a timely manner.

In the lawsuit’s discovery phase, Firkins asked Tacoma’s lawyers the following question: "By year, how many unregistered sex offenders who failed to return verification forms were located by Tacoma after failing to return the verification form from 1998 to 2007?” The city responded, "There are no records to indicate that such mailings ever occurred. The Tacoma Police Department has never done any mailings.” This is in direct violation of the statute requiring law enforcement officers to verify the address of all sex offenders living in the area. When the city started “back-peddling” claiming they do track offenders, they were unable to define the tracking process.

Why wasn’t he deported after his first offense? Because he benefited from Washington State’s protected "special sex offender" status, by pleading guilty to incest in the prior case, avoiding both prison and deportation. Washington’s Special Sex Offender Sentencing Alternative (SSOSA) was created to encouraged prosecutors, judges, mental health professionals and even "victim advocates" to treat child sexual abuse as a psychological or medical problem, not a serious crime. Sexually abusing an innocent child it not a crime? How do you explain that to a parent?

I have read many comments that this was a frivolous lawsuit. Let’s assume for a minute that the case was financially worthless when filed, that it still is, and even if there is an appeal the plaintiff will not receive any monetary award. Does that mean is it "frivolous"? What if it changes a defective system? Wrongful death lawsuits are generally not filed to be a “frivolous” attempt to get rich by capitalizing on the death of a loved one. Usually, they are the only recourse to be able to highlight flaws in a system, enact change, and ensure that it doesn’t happen to another innocent victim.

The state has already enacted laws to monitor sex offenders more closely as a result of the girl’s death, and Tacoma police changed their policy last year to give more people within the department the ability to issue an Amber Alert. It is unfortunate that it took a lawsuit to shake things up in the system so that significant changes are implemented. But, the system is still flawed because using the Amber Alert system is voluntary. It is up to the individual police agencies to decide whether to use the program. This marks a serious failure by a system the public depends on to monitor sex offenders.

Mr. Firkins wanted to shine a light on how defective the system is in protecting kids against sexual predators. His goal was on the errors and omissions that were committed; that an officer of the law, someone we count on to do everything in their power to protect us, behaved in a very irresponsible manner and should also be held accountable for his actions. The focus should not be that the child was already dead therefore an Amber Alert would have made no difference. The sleeping officer did not know that at the time. What happens the next time an Amber Alert is not released in a timely manner? Firkins also wanted to show how important it is that laws are changed regarding the protection of children. Only by bringing this atrocity to the public light can changes be made. It could make a difference in the life of a child.

Isn’t it time we improve laws to protect our children? Shouldn’t we be able to count on our law enforcement and Child Protective Services? For every moment we do nothing, we are putting children in harm’s way. I commend Mr. Firkins for his mission to fight for justice; to push for changes that could prevent similar tragedies. Mr. Firkins is a “hero for justice”.

Mark Bello has thirty-three years experience as a trial lawyer and twelve years as an underwriter and situational analyst in the lawsuit funding industry. He is the owner and founder of Lawsuit Financial Corporation which helps provide legal finance cash flow solutions and consulting when necessities of life litigation funding is needed by plaintiffs involved in pending, personal injury litigation. Bello is a Justice Pac member of the American Association for Justice, Sustaining and Justice Pac member of the Michigan Association for Justice, Business Associate of the Florida, Tennessee, and Colorado Associations for Justice, a member of the American Bar Association as well as their ABA Advisory Committee, the State Bar of Michigan and the Injury Board.