PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County faces a lawsuit over 2,353 alleged public records violations by the county sheriff’s office stemming from the case of a 2016 inmate suicide in the county jail.
The complaint was filed Thursday in Clallam County Superior Court by Greg Overstreet, legal counsel for plaintiff Joseph D’Amico, a Sequim resident.
According to Overstreet, the violations of the Public Records Act represent a maximum penalty of $858,845 and possibly attorney’s fees of more than $200,000.
Jefferson County has 20 days to respond to the claim.
Calls for comment to Chief Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Phillip Hunsucker and Jefferson County Sheriff David Stanko were not immediately returned.
The case involves the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office’s internal investigation into the death of Thomas G. “Tommy” Lorecki, who hanged himself Sept. 16, 2016, while he was an inmate at the Jefferson County Jail in Port Hadlock. Lorecki, 48, died Sept. 17, 2016, at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.
“Jefferson County withheld approximately 700 documents or parts of documents, and 601 redactions to documents, which represents 2,353 violations of the [Public Records Act],” Overstreet said.
He said that in some instances the information withheld relates to the deceased and “the deceased have no privacy rights.” He said other cited exemptions do not apply to a specific law or no explanation is given for the exemption.
A hearing is scheduled for Friday to determine whether the relief requested in the motion should be granted.
D’Amico took an interest in Lorecki’s case because of his personal relationship with him. D’Amico had attended Port Townsend High School with Lorecki’s older brother.
“I was one of his champions,” said D’Amico in a phone interview Friday. “It’s sad that someone, anyone, could go to jail and then this happens, even with all the signs of him wanting to harm himself. There needs to be a better policy, a mechanism for checks and balances. For this to happen, it’s shameful. People in the jail were supposed to look out for his safety and welfare. It wasn’t something that you’d expect to have happen. It was shocking.”
D’Amico said Lorecki had reached out to him for help and he sponsored him in 2015 at both in-patient and out-patient drug rehabilitation facilities.
“I saw a Facebook post where he said he was tired and wanted to end his life. I got him into recovery and paid for him to be there. I visited him weekly,” he said.
After treatment, D’Amico helped him with a place to live in Wenatchee and he seemed to be doing well.
“He ended up coming back to Jefferson County and got involved with the same old crowd. He was arrested for DUI and driving with a suspended license and booked into jail. During his arrest and the time he was in jail, he repeatedly told officers that he wanted to kill himself,” D’Amico said.
According to the complaint, Lorecki hanged himself in his jail cell using a bed sheet after being on a suicide watch.
Records show Sheriff David Stanko authorized one of his staff members to lead the investigation into Lorecki’s death. The internal investigation did not fault corrections staff.
D’Amico said he was close enough to Lorecki that he met with doctors and helped make the decision about life support.
“I was one of his only champions, the guy he would talk to. He never lied to me. Tommy had a lot of hopes and dreams. He wanted to be a counselor.”
Through Overstreet, D’Amico submitted a public records request to the sheriff’s office on Feb. 15, 2017, seeking all reports on Lorecki’s death investigation. He said the sheriff’s office fell behind in the handling of records requests, fulfilling the obligation four months later.
According to Overstreet, many of the words in the documents were redacted, and the release of entire documents was denied.
According to the Washington State Public Records Act, RCW 42.56.550 (4), a judge can assess a maximum penalty of $100 a day per violation.
Overstreet said if all the violations are confirmed, the maximum penalty would be $858,845. The county could face attorney’s fees of more than $200,000 if the case goes to the state Supreme Court, “which is very likely given the magnitude of the violations,” Overstreet said.
“I want to know more about what happened,” said D’Amico. “We asked for the records and the documents had a massive amount of redactions. It didn’t look right. I need answers for my own personal reasons. I was watching over Tommy and I want to know on his behalf. We’ll find out and make sure this doesn’t happen again.
“I wish I didn’t have to sue the county to get this information.”
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected].