(CN) - The families of six killed by a Washington state man during a psychotic episode can sue his former jailers for allegedly failing to treat his mental illness, an appeals court ruled.
Isaac Zamora showed signs of psychiatric problems in his late teens, more than a decade before his 2008 shooting spree, the ruling from the Washington Court of Appeals says.
In fact, Trickey said, Zamora was committed to a hospital in 2004 when he experienced hallucinations.
In 2008, Zamora was sentenced to six months in Skagit County Jail for malicious mischief and possession of a controlled substance.
His mother told the jail that Zamora was aggressive, angry and bipolar and that he had refused treatment and medication.
Later in the year, Zamora was transferred to the Okanogan County Jail, which did not receive a form discussing his visits with mental health professionals.
Three days after Zamora was released from jail, his mother called 911, reporting that he was disrupting the family. He was arrested on an outstanding warrant. His mother said Zamora was mentally ill, but he was released without a psychological evaluation.
Zamora was hospitalized after a motor vehicle accident on his parents' property. Before discharging him, a doctor concluded that he posed no threat of harm to himself or others.
Two weeks later, Zamora went on a shooting spree that left six people dead and four injured. He was sentenced to prison for life without parole.
Fred Binschus and several other family members of the victims filed a negligence lawsuit against the Washington State Department of Corrections, Skagit County 911 and the Skagit and Okanogan county jails.
The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendants on the issues of duty and proximate cause.
The Washington Court of Appeals overturned the decision, however, allowing the plaintiffs to continue to pursue their claims.
Binschus raised an issue of material fact that the jailers had a duty to provide Zamora with a mental health evaluation and treatment, the court found.
"We hold that material questions of fact remain as to whether Skagit County knew or should have know of Zamora's dangerous tendencies," Judge Michael Trickey wrote for the panel.
"The same is not true for Okanogan County. Evidence in the record indicates that Skagit County was likely aware that Zamora had potentially dangerous and criminal inclinations," he added.
Trickey also agreed with Binschus that a jury might believe that the defendants proximately caused the shooting rampage, citing the testimony of Dr. Csaba Hegyvary, the plaintiff's expert psychiatrist.
"Dr. Hegyvary also concluded that had either county provided Zamora with a proper mental health evaluation, a mental health provider would have been able to identify his psychosis and place him on a treatment plan that would include a long-acting antipsychotic medication," the judge wrote.