Family of Navy Yard shooting victim refiles suit against feds, subcontractor
By Howard Altman | Tampa (Fla.) Tribune | Published: April 25, 2014
The family of one of 12 people killed in last year’s deadly rampage at the Washington Navy Yard has refiled a civil lawsuit over the incident in a state court.
Patricia Delorenzo, who represents the estate of Mary Frances Delorenzo Knight, filed a wrongful-death suit in Tampa, Florida, against the U.S. government, John/Jane Does 1-4, The Experts, a Fort Lauderdale company that hired the man who investigators say later killed Knight and the others, and Hewlett-Packard, which hired The Experts as a subcontractor.
Knight, 51, a civilian cybersecurity expert for the Navy Sea Systems Command, was gunned down Sept. 16 at the Washington Navy Yard in the nation’s capital. Investigators say she and 11 others were shot by Navy veteran Aaron Alexis, who was working at the building as a contractor for The Experts.
The suit was originally filed in federal court late last year, but was refiled in Florida court last week “for technical jurisdictional legal issues,” according to Sid Matthew, Delorenzo’s attorney.
To justify filing in Tampa, the suit points to several multi-million dollar contracts The Experts has had with both U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base, and a $68 million contract Hewlett-Packard had with SOCOM. Both companies established local offices to handle the work, according to the suit.
“We’re reviewing the complaint and have no further comment at this time,” said Hewlett-Packard spokesman Michael Thacker in an emailed statement.
The Navy also declined comment, referring calls to the Justice Department, which did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment. The Experts did not immediately return an email seeking comment.
In March, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel released the findings of an investigation into the shooting. Matthew said he incorporated many elements of that report into the lawsuit.
The defendants, according to the lawsuit, failed to take proper steps to deal with Alexis before the shooting despite warning signs.
“Before Sept. 16, Alexis was observed by several people, including his supervisors at THE EXPERTS Inc., and HP Enterprise Services LLC to behave in a way that raised concerns about his mental stability and presented indicators that he may cause harm to others,” according to the lawsuit.
“Specifically the company leadership decided not to inform the government of adverse information concerning Alexis’ emotional, mental, or personality condition, even when they had concerns that Alexis may cause harm to others, as required by the National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual,” according to the lawsuit. “The Experts also knew Alexis had experienced previous episodes of paranoia and records reflect The Experts was concerned that Alexis could present a risk of harm to others.”
The prime contractor, HP Enterprise Services LLC, “failed to meet their contractually required responsibility to continuously evaluate Alexis and report adverse information to the Department of Defense Central Adjudication Facility and U.S. Navy Installation Commanders,” according to the lawsuit. “Specifically HP Enterprise Services LLC did not inform the government of adverse information concerning Alexis emotional, mental or personality condition, as was required by the National Industrial Security Program Operating Manual.”
HP Enterprises also “failed to report information concerning Alexis to U.S. Navy installation commanders to prevent access to Naval Station Newport and NUWC as required by the NISPOM. Instead, Alexis’ unusual behavior was discussed among three HPES employees at Newport.”
The suit also raises complaints about the Naval Station Newport Police Department, saying “personnel could have taken action to deny Alexis access to the base, and to have Alexis evaluated by a mental health professional if the officers thought Alexis presented a risk of immediate danger to himself or others.”
Because those police “were not trained to consider or report interactions with Alexis through the lens of the continuous evaluation of the PSP (Personnel Security Program), it was not reported,” according to the suit.
Access control methods and practices employed by Naval Support Activity Washington and Naval Sea Systems Command to vet unescorted visitors “do not comply with local, Department of the Navy, and Department of Defense instructions,” according to the exhibit.
“There are inadequate or incomplete procedures concerning NAVSEA Access control,” the suit states. “There is also a lack of compliance with existing procedures and a lack of government oversight to ensure that access controls are properly executed.”
Adding to the problems, “physical security and law enforcement programs at Naval Support Activity Washington and physical security program at the Naval Sea Systems Command Headquarters are deficient in several areas,” according to the suit.
The suit also cites four unnamed individuals for “gross negligence.”
Two placed Knight “into a foreseeable zone of danger of serious injury/death from an active inside shooter by failing to report ‘adverse information’ regarding shooter Aaron Alexis.”
Another breached “his/her duty to screen shooter Aaron Alexis for possession of unlawful firearms and ammunition on a federal facility.
A fourth “failed to supervise and require the contract security guard for Building 197 to screen shooter Aaron Alexis for possession of unlawful firearms and ammunition on a Federal facility.”