A Seattle parks administrator who was shot a year ago by a co-worker has filed an $800,000 claim against the city, alleging department officials failed to adequately address the woman’s deteriorating mental condition.
Bill Keller, executive director of the Associated Recreation Council, a nonprofit that provides financial support for parks programs, was shot in the chest at his North Seattle office in March 2013 by Carolyn “Zoom” Piksa, a recreation coordinator.
Keller, 65, recovered from the wound and returned to work six weeks later, but still has bullet fragments in his lungs and a rib, according to the claim. His medical bills have totaled about $130,000. The remainder of the requested amount in the claim is for pain and suffering.
Piksa also brandished a gun and threatened another parks employee at a nearby community center after the confrontation with Keller. She has been charged with first-degree and second-degree assault.
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The shooting prompted a lockdown at the city’s swimming pools and community centers, as well as schools in the area just north of Green Lake where the shooting occurred. Piksa was arrested later in the day at her home in Burien.
On March 14, a King County Superior Court judge ruled that Piksa was not mentally competent to stand trial and ordered her committed for 90 days to Western State Hospital for treatment, according to court papers.
When she was arrested, Piksa told detectives that she was involved in a “game of manipulation” with Keller that she couldn’t win. She said she confronted him because she believed it was “time to get out of the game.”
There is no indication that the two had ever had previous conflicts.
Piksa’s defense attorneys, Emily Gause and John Henry Browne, declined to comment on the claim against the city. The criminal court files include two psychiatric evaluations which, according to the defense pleadings, “describes a disturbing evolution from a normal life to one filled with auditory delusions and hallucinations that left Ms. Piksa terrified” and in fear for her life.
The claim against the city of Seattle, filed earlier this month, details the months leading up to the shooting and what it characterizes as Piksa’s increasingly alarming behavior, including telling a co-worker that she was carrying a butcher knife for self-defense, according to the claim.
The claim says co-workers described Piksa’s behavior at times as “paranoid and delusional” and brought it to the attention of Parks and Recreation Department managers.
“Ms. Piksa’s aberrant behavior was observed, noted and discussed by co-workers and management at Parks for months, yet no steps were taken to properly intervene and either require appropriate medical and/or psychiatric evaluations and treatment, or alternatively, to remove her from the workplace,” the claim says.
In November 2012, Piksa’s behavior was brought to the attention of the city Human Resources Department, according to the claim. The following week, Piksa was taken by her supervisor and a co-worker to a medical facility for an evaluation.
According to an investigation conducted by the state Department of Labor and Industries and cited in the claim, Piksa was not admitted because there were no available bed spaces, but she was prescribed antipsychotic drugs on an outpatient basis. The psychiatric evaluation in the court files says Piksa never took the medication.
In late December of that year, Piksa applied for and received an extended medical leave. During her leave, according to the claim, she met with a co-worker and told her that she had a gun.
While the claim acknowledges that co-workers attempted to get help for Piksa, it concludes that Parks Department management “had an obligation to fully investigate her behavior and take actions necessary to protect both her and others.” It also says the Parks Department failure to take more effective action “culminated in the tragic shooting of Keller.”
The city has 60 days to respond to the claim or face a potential lawsuit.
Lynn Thompson: 206-464-8305 or firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter @lthompsontimes