Jessica Ann Marie Ortega, 27, was killed on Feb. 20, 2016, three days after she'd been threatened with death at gunpoint and had reported it authorities. She told them how to find her ex-boyfriend. Then she repeated her request for help. She leaves two children.
The children of a woman who was shot and killed by her estranged boyfriend even though she had begged the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department for help have settled a negligence lawsuit for $7.8 million.
Jessica Ann Marie Ortega, 27, was killed on Feb. 20, 2016, at a University Place nursing home where she worked. Three days earlier, her ex-boyfriend had broken into her house and accosted her while she was in the shower, where he held a gun to her head and told her it was her time to die, according to a lawsuit filed in Pierce County Superior Court last year.
According to court documents, Ortega escaped from the house, fled in her car and called 911. When she met with deputies from the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office, she reported what happened, filled out a domestic-violence report and explained that her ex-boyfriend, Marcos Perea, was a felon in possession of a handgun who had a GPS ankle monitor attached to him because he was on probation for another crime.
She also told them where he could be found and the kind of car he drove. According to the lawsuit, the deputies didn’t take her seriously and did little with the information.
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“This was one of the worst cases of police negligence I’ve ever seen,” said Jack Connelly, an attorney for Ortega’s two children and estate. “The nonchalance is stunning. She went there telling them it was going to happen and it’s a mystery why they didn’t go in and prevent the murder from occurring.”
An effort to get a comment from the Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, which defended the suit, was not immediately successful.
Sgt. Ed Troyer, spokesman for Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor, said that domestic-violence calls “are some of the most volatile and unpredictable which we respond to. The expectations of the public and even the courts, can sometimes exceed our ability to resolve these complex situations.”
According to the suit, police claimed they didn’t arrest Perea that day because they couldn’t find him. The lawsuit claims that had police called the 41-year-old man’s probation officer, he would have provided that information because Perea was wearing an ankle monitor.
Over the next few days, Ortega called police repeatedly for help that never came and obtained a temporary domestic-violence protection order, according to court records.
She obtained the order on Feb. 19, after which she went to her mother’s house with her two children. Meantime, four deputies went to her house to look for Perea, according to the suit. While the deputies reported that they had heard noises from inside the home and found Perea’s car in the driveway, they left without arresting him.
“Despite having the knowledge and ability to arrest Perea and to enter the home, the defendants simply stood around and waited a few minutes and then left,” the suit claimed. “… Instead of helping Jessica, defendants sealed her death by acting in an exceptionally unreasonable and grossly negligent manner, thus provoking an unhinged and psychotic gunman to carry out his plan to kill Jessica.”
The following day, Perea confronted Ortega during shift change at 6:15 a.m. at the University Place nursing home and shot her.
A short time later, Perea was killed by police after a chase on Interstate 5 in which he allegedly shot at officers.
According to Connelly, the county agreed to settle for $7.8 million on Nov. 13, because it feared an “embarrassing trial and the risk of a much higher verdict.” Last year, Connelly and Seattle attorney Tim Ford won a record $15.3 million jury verdict in a police wrongful-death lawsuit against the City of Lakewood.
He said Ortega’s children, who are now 6 and 8 years old, are being cared for by a committed friend of their mother who “is doing a very, very good job with them.”