Politics & Government

DOC, families settle ‘Cowboy Mike’ suit

OLYMPIA - The state will pay $3.25 million to settle two plaintiffs’ claims in a lawsuit brought against the state Department of Corrections by the family of an alleged victim and daughters of a victim of convicted killer Michael “Cowboy Mike” Braae.

According to the settlement agreement filed Friday in Thurston County Superior Court, the payout from the state’s risk management pool includes a $3 million settlement to the two daughters of Braae’s 2001 homicide victim, Lori Jones of Lacey. The state will also pay $250,000 to the estate of Karen Peterson, who said that Braae sexually assaulted her in Yakima County in 2001.

In 2008, Braae was sentenced to nearly 48 years in prison for raping and murdering Jones in her Lacey apartment in summer 2001.

Two additional alleged Braae victims named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit against DOC – the estate of homicide victim Susan Ault and the estate of Marchelle Morgan – have yet to settle their civil claims, and their lawsuits are still active.

The lawsuit alleges that Corrections failed to supervise Braae when he was on probation around the time of Ault’s disappearance in June 2001.

The suit says that Braae wouldn’t have been able to victimize the four women had Corrections correctly extended Braae’s parole from October 2000 to October 2001. The suit further alleges that corrections lost the order that would have extended Braae’s parole to October 2001.

The suit also alleges that Corrections failed to correctly place Braae on community supervision in October 2000, as ordered by Thurston County Superior Court Judge Christine Pomeroy.

Instead, Braae was placed on the 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 the plaintiffs’ attorneys, said in a prior interview.

A Corrections spokesman and Assistant Attorney General Paul James, who is representing the agency in the lawsuit, declined to comment on the settlement of the two plaintiffs’ cases Friday, citing the pending cases.

Reached by telephone late Wednesday, plaintiffs’ attorney Blaine Tamaki said: “The families wanted closure after so many years. Sadly, money is the only way for DOC to apologize to the families. Because of the pending cases, I cannot say more.”

Braae remains a “person of interest” in Susan Ault’s homicide, as well in another case involving Deb VanLuven, a former Lacey resident who lived with Braae in Oregon and Montana and went missing in 1997.

Ault, 39, disappeared from a friend’s trailer in Wahkiakum County on May 21, 2001. The friend saw Braae and Ault arguing shortly before her disappearance.

Ault’s purse, with identification, 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 she was a homicide victim.

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 that Morgan was unfit to testify because of her brain injuries.

Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5465