JEFFERSON CITY — The mother of a slain 9-year-old Missouri girl is suing a mental health clinic saying it was in a position to know and prevent the violent tendencies of the teenager who killed her daughter.
Patricia Preiss filed the wrongful death lawsuit against Pathways Community Behavioral Healthcare, two employees and 18-year-old Alyssa Bustamante, who was convicted in Elizabeth Olten's death. Bustamante was 15 years old at the time of the October 2009 slaying in St. Martins, a small community just west of Jefferson City. She was sentenced in February to life in prison with the possibility of parole after pleading guilty to killing Elizabeth.
The lawsuit says Pathways personnel knew of Bustamante's violent tendencies and threats, and should have detained the teen, the Jefferson City News-Tribune reported. The suit seeks "fair and just expenses" for Elizabeth's death, plus monetary damages for her pain and suffering and punitive damages.
During Bustamante's sentencing hearing in February, Cole County prosecutors and the teen's public defenders presented evidence that Bustamante had cut herself a number of times and had been hospitalized at the Mid-Missouri Mental Health Center in Columbia after a 2007 suicide attempt. She became a Pathways client after she was released from the hospital.
Bustamante admitted in court that she strangled Elizabeth, stabbed her and slit her throat, then buried the child in a wooded area behind their homes. During the hearing, prosecutors pointed to a journal entry written by Bustamante on the night of the slaying in which she described it as an "ahmazing" experience. In court, Bustamante apologized for her actions.
The lawsuit by Preiss alleges that Bustamante had indicated to Pathways personnel that she wanted to harm Elizabeth.
Pathways' employees "were aware of the same violent propensities of Bustamante, as well as the specific, identifiable threats to harm Olten," the lawsuit says. But "none of these defendants took actions to detain Bustamante" and "none warned Olten or Preiss of the specific threat on Olten, nor did they take any action that might have prevented Bustamante from harming Olten."
Pathways counselor Ron Wilson, who was named as a defendant in the lawsuit, had testified during Bustamante's sentencing hearing that she had not indicated she was a threat to anyone but herself. The lawsuit also names Pathways psychiatrist Niger Sultana as a defendant.
Mel Fetter, president and CEO of Pathways' parent company Compass Health, told the News-Tribune that he couldn't comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit, which was filed Oct. 18, was assigned to Cole County Circuit Judge Patricia Joyce, who also presided over Bustamante's sentencing hearing. No hearings had been scheduled as of Monday.
Preiss previously filed a separate wrongful death lawsuit against Karen and Gary Brooke, who are Bustamante's grandparents and were her legal guardians at the time of Elizabeth's slaying. St. Louis County Circuit Judge Gloria Reno ordered a $400,000 judgment in that case, after an Oct. 3 hearing.