The daughter of homicide victim Susan Ault has joined a civil lawsuit against the state Department of Corrections alleging that it failed to supervise convicted killer "Cowboy" Mike Braae around the time of Ault's disappearance in June 2001.
The lawsuit was filed by Ault’s daughter Cortney Satterthwaite on Oct. 8 in Thurston County Superior Court. The suit makes the same claims about the DOC’s liability as three other lawsuits filed by family members of women who were killed, are thought to have been killed, or otherwise were victimized by Braae, said Yakima attorney Blaine Tamaki. She is representing all four families.
Ault, 39, disappeared from a friend’s trailer in Wahkiakum County on May 21, 2001, her father, Bruce Ault, said in an interview last year. The friend saw Braae and Ault arguing shortly before her disappearance, Bruce Ault has said. Ault’s purse, with identification, later was found at a rest stop, but she has never been found.
In July 2008, the Wahkiakum County coroner issued a death certificate for Ault, stating that she was a victim of “homicidal violence of unknown type.”
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In July 2008, Braae was sentenced to nearly 48 years in prison for raping and murdering Lori Jones in her Lacey apartment in summer 2001.
Braae remains a “person of interest” in Ault’s homicide, as well as in another case involving Deb VanLuven, a former Lacey resident who lived with Braae in Oregon and Montana and went missing in 1997.
The four plaintiffs in the lawsuits against DOC filed by Tamaki are the families of Susan Ault, Lori Jones, Marchelle Morgan and Karen Peterson.
Morgan was shot in the head and left for dead on a country road south of Union Gap on July 14, 2001. Braae was accused of attempted murder in her shooting, but the case ended in a mistrial after a judge ruled Morgan was unfit to testify as a witness because of her brain injuries.
Peterson alleges that Braae sexually assaulted her in Yakima County, also in July 2001.
The Tamaki law firm’s lawsuits all allege that Braae wouldn’t have been able to victimize the four women in 2001 had DOC correctly placed him on community supervision, as ordered by Thurston County Superior Court Judge Christine Pomeroy in October 2000.
Pomeroy made that order during a hearing that month after Braae was found to be in noncompliance with his conditions of release following a 1997 conviction for escaping from the Thurston County Jail.
Instead, DOC placed Braae on its lowest level of supervision, LFO, which stands for legal, financial obligations only and requires a person who is out of custody only to pay fines, Bryan Smith, one of Tamaki Law’s attorneys, said last year.
“This is a case where there were red flags all over the place that he was a bad actor,” Smith said last year. “He was placed on the lowest level of supervision. This guy needed geographical range restrictions, field visits and drug testing.”
Tamaki said Wednesday that DOC misplaced or lost Pomeroy’s order extending Braae’s community custody. During the period in which Braae should have been on community supervision, Ault disappeared and Jones was raped and murdered in Lacey, Tamaki said.
Tamaki said his office has learned additional information about DOC’s mishandling of Braae’s supervision as part of its discovery in the other lawsuits. That information is included in the new lawsuit filed on behalf of Ault’s family last week, and it includes the following:
• In 1998, Clackamas County Sheriff’s Lt. Wendi Babst notified the Washington DOC of her investigation of a suspicious death of one of Braae’s girlfriends, Velina Larson, in Oregon. She asked to be notified about Braae’s release from DOC custody.
• “Had the DOC bothered to call Lt. Babst when assessing Mr. Braae’s risk to society, Lt. Babst would have informed the DOC that her investigation led her to interview numerous victims of extreme violence committed by Michael Braae in 1998, 1999, and 2000 in Washington, Oregon and California,” reads the lawsuit. “These acts of violence included forcible rape, battery (including beatings with his closed fist) and death threats.”
• Being left without active supervision “enabled Mr. Braae to wander freely, continuing his well-documented pattern of perpetrating violent crimes against women.”
• The lawsuit concludes: “Rather than viewing Mr. Braae as the highest risk to society, the DOC failed to inquire about all of the above criminal and behavioral history, ignored the court order imposing community supervision, incorrectly scored Mr. Braae using the LSI-R, and failed to report his numerous probation violations to the court which would have resulted in jail time.”
The first of the lawsuits filed by Tamaki is tentatively scheduled to go to trial in Thurston County in July.
Washington Assistant Attorney General Paul James, who is defending DOC in all four of the civil lawsuits, declined to comment on the lawsuits Wednesday. When interviewed about the lawsuits last year, James said, “I think DOC has a difficult job in supervising offenders who are free to walk about in the community.”
Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5465