Family of slain Okla. couple sue Arizona officials

AP News
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Posted: Mar 17, 2011 8:17 PM

The family of an Oklahoma couple who authorities say was killed by two escaped prisoners from Arizona and an accomplice filed a lawsuit Thursday that accuses the prison where the inmates were held of being so negligently operated that it placed the public in danger.

The lawsuit, filed in Maricopa County Superior Court in Phoenix, alleges that the Arizona State Penitentiary at Kingman had numerous security breakdowns including a faulty perimeter alarm system that malfunctioned for two years and was inoperable at the time of the escape and untrained prison personnel who routinely ignored alarms.

"Through its egregious failure to meet its duty of care to the general public, defendant acted to serve its own interests while having reason to know, and consciously disregarded a substantial risk that its conduct might significantly injure the rights of others," the 30-page petition states.

The lawsuit was filed by the family of Gary and Linda Haas of Tecumseh, Okla., who were killed on Aug. 2 in New Mexico as they were traveling to Colorado for an annual camping trip with friends.

It seeks unspecified damages, including punitive damages, from the state of Arizona, the Arizona Department of Corrections, the Kingman prison's private operator, Utah-based Management and Training Corp., and its builder, Dominion Asset Services of Guthrie, Okla.

The family's attorney, Jacob Diesselhorst of Edmond, Okla., said investigations into the July 30 escape of the inmates revealed flagrant security deficiencies and errors by management and security staff.

"It's almost hard to believe how poorly managed and operated this place was. It's mind boggling," Diesselhorst said. "The state of Arizona, the public, was at risk at this whole time unknowingly."

He said false alarms at the prison were so commonplace that they were ignored by correctional officers.

"And the inmates picked up on it. It's frightening," Diesselhorst said. He accused Management and Training Corp. of cutting corners on security equipment and personnel at the prison to save money and increase profits. During the escape, the perimeter of the unit the inmates were held in was unmanned and no one was guarding it, according to the petition.

Spokesmen for Management and Training Corp. and Dominion said Thursday their companies do not comment on pending litigation. A spokesman for the Arizona Department of Corrections, Barrett Marson, did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

Escaped prisoners Tracy Province, John McCluskey, and McCluskey's fiancee and cousin, Casslyn Welch, are charged with capital murder and carjacking in the Haases' deaths. McCluskey was serving 15 years for attempted 2nd degree murder when he escaped from the Kingman prison and Province was serving a life prison sentence for murder and robbery.

Authorities have said Welch helped McCluskey, Province and a third inmate, Daniel Renwick escape from the medium-security prison by throwing wire cutters over a fence.

The escape sparked a nationwide hunt and all four were recaptured within three weeks. Renwick, who was serving two consecutive 22-year terms for two counts of murder, was arrested on Aug. 1 in Colorado and is not accused in the killings.

New Mexico prosecutors have said Province, McCluskey and Welch targeted the Haases, both 61, at an Interstate 40 rest stop because they had grown weary of traveling and sleeping in their car and wanted the couple's camping trailer. Authorities said the Haases were taken to a remote ranch near Colonias, N.M., where they were shot and the trailer was set on fire.