Judge dismisses Rontarus Washington Jr.’s wrongful incarceration lawsuit, pending correction of deficiencies in complaint

photo by: Journal-World

Rontarus Washington Jr., center, listens to arguments from prosecutors during a motions hearing Friday, Nov. 13, 2020, in Douglas County District Court. At left and right are Washington's attorneys, Adam Hall and Angela Keck.

A federal judge has dismissed for now a wrongful incarceration lawsuit filed by a former defendant in a long-running Lawrence murder case and has given the man’s attorney 120 days to file an amended complaint to correct “deficiencies” in the lawsuit.

Rontarus Washington Jr. had sued multiple individuals in Douglas County in connection with his approximately five-year incarceration after he was charged with murdering his 19-year-old neighbor, Justina Altamirano Mosso, whose body was found Nov. 9, 2014, at her Lawrence apartment after she had been repeatedly bludgeoned and stabbed.

Washington underwent one trial in the case, but the jury could not agree on a verdict. A second trial was in the works when the case was dismissed without prejudice on Dec. 22, 2021, by current District Attorney Suzanne Valdez. During his incarceration, Washington had seven different attorneys and issues such as competency to stand trial, which caused numerous delays in the case.

Washington, 27, filed suit on Feb. 15 of this year naming former DA Charles Branson, Sheriff Jay Armbrister and former sheriffs Ken McGovern and Randy Roberts as defendants, along with Douglas County generally, as the Journal-World reported.

In his order on Friday, Judge John Broomes granted the defendants’ request for dismissal, declaring that, under the facts alleged by Washington, Branson is entitled to “absolute prosecutorial immunity” in the case. As to the sheriffs named in the lawsuit, the judge said Washington had not made a specific allegation that a sheriff was responsible for his continued detention. And his claim against the county similarly lacked the required specificity of individual wrongdoing.

“Although Plaintiff alleges that collectively Defendants caused his confinement and the original prosecution ended in his favor, Plaintiff fails to allege that there was a lack of probable cause or that Defendants acted with malice,” the judge wrote. “Further, Plaintiff’s allegations are entirely conclusory and fail to set forth specific facts showing that a defendant or any of them caused Plaintiff’s continued confinement or prosecution.”

The judge stayed his order of dismissal and gave Washington, who is represented by Larry G. Michel, 120 days to correct the deficiencies noted by the court and to file an amended complaint. If an amended complaint isn’t filed, the case will be dismissed without prejudice.

Washington’s murder case was the subject of community protests in the summer of 2020. Ultimately, a judge lowered Washington’s bond from $750,000 to $500,000, and he was able to bond out of jail with financial help from community members who believed he was being unjustly accused and that race was a factor in his arrest.

In September, Washington was charged in Shawnee County District Court with multiple felonies after he allegedly robbed a Topeka convenience store. In that case he faces one felony count each of aggravated robbery, aggravated battery, felony interference with law enforcement, plus one misdemeanor count of attempted battery on a law enforcement agent, as the Journal-World reported.

Washington is being held on a $155,000 bond and is next scheduled to appear in Shawnee County District Court on Oct. 30 for a preliminary hearing, at which a judge will decide whether to order him to stand trial for the alleged crimes.


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