The parents of a 30-year-old mother of three have slapped Metro with a lawsuit alleging that the killing of their daughter by her boyfriend was the direct result of the negligence of a former probation officer.
Metro Police have concluded that Shellie Albright Hernandez was killed by her estranged boyfriend Michael Dewayne Williams on Dec. 2, 2008 after a number of abusive incidents between the two. But in a suit filed last week in Davidson County Circuit Court, parents Steven and Kathy Albright of Maryville, Tenn., allege their daughter's gruesome end could have been prevented had former Community Corrections Program employee Stephanie Patterson filed and served a violation of probation warrant.
In January 2008, Williams was sentenced to 11 years of supervised probation; Patterson was assigned to act as Williams’ probation officer.
According to the suit, 11 months later, on Nov. 4, Williams was arrested by Metro Police following a domestic incident. The police affidavit states Williams struck Hernandez, tried to choke her with a pillow, and put a handgun to her head. He was charged with aggravated assault involving a weapon and domestic assault.
After the incident, an order of protection was taken out against Williams, but on Nov. 5 he broke the order when he contacted Hernandez at the department's Domestic Violence Office. As a result, on Nov. 17 Judge Gayle Robinson sentenced Williams to a 10-day jail stay for breaking the order.
It is at this point that the Albright’s lawsuit alleges probation officials dropped the ball with deadly consequences. According to the filing, Williams' actions constituted a violation of his probation and Patterson should have filed a warrant that would have kept the suspect in custody — but she failed to do so, the suit says.
“The probation officer didn't do anything to prohibit him from bonding out,” the plaintiffs’ attorney Joseph M. Dalton Jr. told The City Paper. “Had she filed the probation violation warrant, there's no bond on that.”
Without this warrant, Williams was able to post a $50,000 bond on Dec. 1. The next day, according to police accounts, he drove to Hernandez' Nashville apartment where he shot and killed her. Reports say that her children witnessed the crime.
“He only had one objective of getting out jail, and that was to kill her,” Dalton said. “That is what he did.”
The lawsuit states, “as a direct and proximate result of the negligence of the defendants, Davidson County Department of Corrections Program and Metropolitan Government of Davidson County, by and through the acts of its employee, Stephanie Patterson, the deceased was murdered.”
Janet Hobson, the program director of the Community Corrections Program, declined to comment on the suit, but did confirm that the program fired Patterson once the conditions of the murder came to light.
Calls to Metro Legal Department attorneys were not returned by Monday evening.
Williams also had previous convictions for felony cocaine, unlawful weapon possession, drug possession, domestic assault, assault of a police officer and evading arrest. This November he pled guilty to the assault charges stemming from the handgun incident. He is scheduled to go on trial for first-degree murder in July of 2010.
(A copy of the filing is attached.)