LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A Kentucky woman seeking compensation for the shooting death of her son at Fort Bliss will get a chance to argue why her quest should go forward.
The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals set an oral argument date for July 17 in a lawsuit brought by Renee Richardson of Louisville against the U.S. Army. Richardson's son, 18-year-old Ezra Gerald Smith, died when a soldier went on a shooting spree at the military post on the Texas-New Mexico line on April 24, 2009.
U.S. District Judge Charles R. Simpson III in Louisville ruled in September that federal laws prevented the teen's mother from pursuing damages from the government. Simpson concluded that the law is designed to prevent judicial "second guessing of policy considerations" by the military.
Richardson had been seeking $8.75 million. She accused the Army of negligence in diagnosing and treating the alleged shooter, Spc. Gerald Polanco.
Polanco was charged with murder but ruled incompetent to stand trial by a military judge a few months later.
In appeals briefs, Richardson's attorney, Sheila Hiestand of Louisville, argued that the Army knew Polanco had severe mental and emotional issues and had been actively seeing doctors about post-traumatic stress disorder. Because the Army knew of the issue, it had a duty to warn others that Polanco was a danger, Hiestand wrote.
"In this particular instance, the medical staff employed by the United States of America to treat Spc. Polanco for post-traumatic stress disorder knew or should have known that there was a probability of imminent physical injury to others and thus were permitted to disclose confidential information," Hiestand wrote.
U.S. Department of Justice appeals attorney Daniel Lenerz wrote in a brief that the current federal law and military regulations didn't allow or require the military to do anything more for Polanco than was being done at the time of the shooting.
"Plaintiffs identify no law or Army regulation that would have required Specialist Polanco's superiors to take specific action in light of Specialist Polanco's alleged behavior," Lenerz wrote.
Smith was at Fort Bliss, along the Texas-New Mexico line, where his stepfather was based. He was shot in the back of the head April 24, 2009.
The case is one of many involving soldiers who claim to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, including the prosecution of former 101st Airborne soldier Steven Dale Green. Green was convicted in federal court of raping and killing a teenage girl while on active duty in Iraq and killing her family.
Polanco, a native of Del Rio, Texas, is accused of shooting Smith to death and wounding another soldier outside the main gates at Fort Bliss. Along with the murder charge, Polanco has been charged with attempted murder in the wounding of an unidentified soldier and being absent without leave.
Polanco, an Iraq war veteran, had been serving as a military police soldier with the 1st Armored Division. The military listed him as AWOL at the time of the shooting.
The morning of the shooting, Polanco threatened to attack his lieutenant, then disappeared. A short time later, Smith, who had been accepted to Kentucky State University, was shot.
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