LOUISVILLE (CN) – A mentally disturbed Military Policeman at Fort Bliss shot a teen-ager in the back of the head and killed him on base after the Army failed to give the shooter the medical treatment he needed, despite his family’s pleas for it, the teen’s mother claims in Federal Court. The teen, who was walking to school, lived on the base as the son of a soldier on active duty.
The killing came a little over a year before the incident this year in which a retired sergeant shot two women, one fatally, at a convenience store at the military base in El Paso.
The mother, Renee Richardson, says her son, Ezra Gerald Smith, was finishing up his senior year in high school when Spc. Gerald Polanco shot him “in the back of the head, in sharp-shooter fashion as Spc. Polanco had been trained.”
Polanco “then proceeded to open fire on other members of the base community, and asked for assistance in moving Ezra Gerald Smith’s body,” the mother says.
Richardson says Polanco’s family had asked that he be helped – to no avail.
“Spc. Polanco had previously served in combat, and was suffering from numerous psychiatric disorders that were either undiagnosed, improperly diagnosed or untreated or improperly treated by one or more medical providers with medical privileges at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas,” the mother says.
“In the weeks prior to Spc. Polanco’s foreseeable outburst and shooting of decedent, Spc. Polanco’s family had requested assistance from the Army through both the health care professionals and chain of command. Moreover, Spc. Polanco had been taken by his unit members against his will to ‘mental health’ for medical care and psychiatric evaluation in the days preceding the incident. The health care professionals failed to comply with the standard of care in identifying his severe PTSD, and allowing him back into the population to kill the decedent.”
The complaint states: “In the months prior to the shooting, Spc. Polanco went to the chaplain to get help, but the Chaplain’s office declined. In February 2009, two months prior to the shootings, Spc. Polanco’s wife complained to his commanding officer that he needed help. Captain Stewart, his commanding officer, admitted that Spc. Polanco’s wife came to him and said he needed help.
“Just prior to the week of the shooting, Spc. Polanco was considered AWOL for a period of time. No action was taken on this charge of being Absent Without Leave.
“Prior to the shootings, he had not been showing up to work for a week.
“On the morning of April 24, 2009, several hours before his shooting spree, Spc.
Polanco threatened his immediate supervisor with violence and death, and was negligently permitted to leave mandatory military training, despite the direct threats of violence. No actions were taken to prevent Spc. Polanco from leaving and causing injury to others.
“Despite the previous warnings by family and unit members, no efforts were made to remove weapons from the home of Spc. Polanco, nor to remove him from his position as an armed military police officer for the Department of the Army.
“Upon returning to his home, Spc. Polanco, acting in the course and scope of his employment as a military police officer with the Department of the Army, opened fire on 18-year-old Ezra Gerald Smith, who was walking to school across the street from Spc. Polanco’s Army issued base housing. Ezra Gerald Smith was shot in the back of the head, in sharp-shooter fashion as Spc. Polanco had been trained. Spc. Polanco then proceeded to open fire on other members of the base community, and asked for assistance in moving Ezra Gerald Smith’s body.
“Spc. Polanco’s actions were proximately caused by the gross and severe negligence of numerous members of the Armed Forces, as set forth above, and as yet undetermined physicians working at William Beaumont Army Medical Center. But for their negligence, carelessness, wanton disregard, and recklessness, Spc. Polanco would not have been capable of killing the decedent. All of Spc. Polanco’s actions were reasonably foreseeable had the Department of the Army followed its own policies and procedures for handling and treating post-active-duty officers with PTSD. Thus, their negligence was a direct and proximate cause of the death of Ezra Gerald Smith.”
Polanco has been charged with killing her son, Richardson says.
She seeks punitive damages for medical negligence, gross negligence and loss of consortium.
She is represented by Sheila Hiestand with Bubalo Hiestand & Rotman of Louisville.
The defendant is the United States of America.