Damage claims filed against county for mental distress stemming from hostage incident

A Hoquiam woman has filed a $500,000 claim for damages against Grays Harbor County over the mental and physical trauma she says she suffered when she was held hostage at knifepoint by a jail escapee and then witnessed a county corrections officer shoot and kill the escapee. A woman from Grayland who witnessed the assault and shooting has filed a similar $500,000 damage claim.

In October of last year, John Gary Lies was in custody and undergoing medical treatment at Grays Harbor Community Hospital following a failed suicide attempt at the jail — or an elaborate staging of a suicide with a premeditated strategy to escape — when he fled naked from the hospital and across the street to the Grays Harbor Health and Rehabilitation Center.

With Corrections Sgt. James Byrd in pursuit, Lies took Karen Jean Landberg, 54, captive and held a butter knife to her throat. When Lies reportedly threatened Landberg, Byrd fired one shot into Lies’ neck at close range.

The Grays Harbor Coroner’s Office ruled Lies died from a single “contact penetrating gunshot wound of the neck and chest.” In a police report, Aberdeen police investigators asked Byrd why he decided to pull the trigger.

“Because he was presenting an immediate threat to an innocent civilian,” Byrd answered.

Byrd was praised by his superiors honored as The Daily World’s Police Officer of the Year for his actions. Landberg and Debra Andrews were both on a cigarette break in the parking lot of the Grays Harbor Health and Rehabilitation Center as Lies came at them. Landberg was attacked but Andrews was witness to it.

At the time, Landberg was a moderate care manager at the rehabilitation center and Andrews was a nurse. Both filed separate $500,000 claims for damages, signed by each of them and including hundreds of pages of supporting documents, police reports and Labor & Industries documents.

It was all submitted to the county commissioners by their attorneys with Becker Rovang PLLC of Port Orchard. Attorney David Rovang didn’t return a message on Tuesday seeking comment.

On Monday, the county commissioners referred the case to the county’s risk management division.

“An escaped inmate jumped me, put a knife to my neck and knocked me down,” Landberg writes in her claim for damages.

Landberg’s damage claim says she suffered knee contusions, left hip and left elbow pain, and severe emotional distress and post-traumatic stress disorder. Her supporting documents notes she required knee surgery as well as multiple counseling sessions.

“She relives the terror, the feel of the man on top of her, the gunshot and the horror of his dying,” a counselor writes in the supporting documents turned over to the county.

“… He did not stop when yelled at and even when repeatedly hit in the back of the head with a revolver. He was doggedly determined to kill her and the officer shot him to prevent her death. She has developed anger at the officer for not performing his duties when guarding the prisoner in the hospital, as she feels all this could have been prevented.”

“One co-worker was a few feet away screaming throughout the ordeal,” the counselor writes. “When she tries to sleep, she still hears the gunshot so close to her face and feels the blood of her attacker.”

The co-worker, who was Andrews, is currently suffering from “extreme emotional distress and post-traumatic stress disorder, panic and anxiety,” according to her separate claim for damages.

A counselor writes in supporting documents for the damage claim that Andrews “feels guilty for not helping Karen” and she “can’t stop thinking about the awful events of that day.”