Rape victim's lawsuit dismissed

Rape victim's lawsuit dismissed

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PROVO — A judge has dismissed a complaint filed by a Utah Valley University student who was raped and beaten nearly to death along the Provo River Trail.

The woman filed the complaint in September, alleging that companies and government agencies were negligent in allowing the man who attacked her, Shawn Michael Leonard, to participate in a work-release program.

On June 9, 2010, Leonard walked away from the work-release program, then raped and assaulted the then 19-year-old woman who had been walking on the trail.

Utah County, the Utah County Sheriff's Office, Universal Industrial Sales Inc., and Intermountain Staffing were named in the complaint.

Judge David Mortensen dismissed the complaint in a ruling that also denied the woman's request to amend her complaint, finding that the woman "failed to state a claim for which relief can be granted."

The amended complaint alleged that inmates on work release often left their job sites and returned at day's end and would drink or use drugs on the job. It claimed the defendants knew that private employers weren't reporting these types of violations until the end of the day, among other things.

We want to see it through, fight for her and fight for justice. It's a matter of people being reckless with other people's safety.

–Joe Stultz, woman's attorney

One of the woman's attorneys, Joe Stultz, said Thursday that he was disappointed with the ruling and that he and his partner intend to appeal it to the Utah Supreme Court.

"We want to see it through, fight for her and fight for justice," Stultz said. "It's a matter of people being reckless with other people's safety."

The crime

Leonard, 36, was authorized to take part in the jail work-release program despite his record, which prosecutors later said included six stints in prison. Through the program, Intermountain Staffing placed him at Universal Industrial Sales, according to the complaint.

When Leonard walked away from the work-release program that day, he approached the UVU student near the Provo River Trail and asked her for money. She testified that when she said she didn't have any to give, he told her to sit and turn away.

The next thing the woman felt was a string around her neck strangling her. She believes she may have blacked out for up to three hours. During that time, Leonard smashed the woman's face with a rock and cement cinder block.

Once she regained consciousness, she said she only had enough power to crawl back to the trail, where she was able to get help.

Leonard knocked out six of the woman's teeth, and she later had to have two more removed because they were so badly damaged. Her jaw was broken and had to be wired shut.

Police said they were able to locate Leonard after finding his work-release ankle bracelet at the scene of the attack.

Leonard eventually pleaded guilty to attempted aggravated murder, aggravated robbery and two counts of aggravated kidnapping and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

The ruling

In the complaint, the woman alleged that neither Intermountain Staffing nor Universal Industrial Sales provided any screening or supervision of Leonard. She also claimed that the director of the Utah Jail Industries Program in Utah County "failed to timely inform the authorities of Shawn Michael Leonard's escape."

Plaintiff claims that defendants owed a duty to young women, but does not include any facts that demonstrate how Leonard's words or conduct identified that group as being a group to which he was particularly dangerous.

–Judge's ruling

In addition to the negligence claim, the woman asked for punitive damages from Universal Industrial Sales and Intermountain Staffing, which she believes exhibited "reckless disregard" in their actions involving Leonard.

Mortensen addressed each named party individually, first dismissing the action against the Utah County Sheriff's Office as an agency "subordinate" to Utah County. He then dismissed the claims against Utah County on the grounds that they "did not owe a duty" to the woman, because she was not a specifically identifiable person under the law and because she failed to show that Leonard was someone who was especially dangerous compared to others in custody.

Because the judge found no duty was owed by the county, he said he did not need to include the assertion of governmental immunity, but did note that immunity does cover an agency when an injury results from assault or battery.

The judge also found Universal Industrial Sales Inc. and Intermountain Staffing did not owe a duty to the woman.

Stultz said he hopes the appeal will answer questions brought in the case that he feels need to be addressed.

"When we took the case on, I can tell you that we thought it was a difficult case because of the issue of immunity and that it was a novel kind of question, but we felt, under the circumstances of what she faced, that we had to take the case," he said. "There are some unique issues that need to be dealt with and governmental immunity questions and issues of negligence."


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Emiley Morgan


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