SPOKANE, Wash. - The son of a man who died outside the Spokane County courthouse wants the county held accountable for his father's death and is suing the county.
Opening arguments got underway Monday, nearly ten years after that man died.
On November 26, 2007, 84-year-old Kay Mita died the same day he showed up to the courthouse for jury duty. He was chosen as a juror on a case, but after taking a break for lunch, he didn't return to the courtroom. The next morning he was found dead outside the courthouse.
Floyd Mita, Kay Mita's son, believes it was the county's negligence that led to his death. The operator who took the missing person report determined that Mita was not an "at risk" missing adult, so his report was filed into a database rather than sent to police.
Kay Mita was a Japanese-American who spent three years in an internment camp during World War II. Floyd Mita says his father was proud to attend jury duty and be recognized as a contributing member of our society.
The day Mita showed up for jury duty, Spokane was preparing for its first winter snow storm of the season.
"Spokane was being told by the National Weather Service to prepare for several inches of snow that would fall that night," said John Allison, the attorney for the Mita family.
That day jurors were excused for lunch, but for some reason Mita did not return to the courtroom. The court informed his family that he didn't return and had been excused from jury duty. That night, Mita didn't return home either.
His family called the Spokane Criminal Reporting Center, a non-emergency line at the time, shortly after 7 p.m. Kelly Johnson was the operator who took that call and said the circumstances around Mita's disappearance did not put him at risk, so it wasn't sent off to officers.
Johnson took the stand Monday during the first day of the jury trial. She testified that a person's age and the weather do not count as factors in determining if someone is "at risk."
Attorney's representing Mita's estate disagree, and believe Johnsons should have used her discretion to recognize that an elderly man was in danger in those weather conditions.
"Ms. Johnson chose to conclude that an 84-year-old missing adult in freezing weather with a snow advisory did not qualify as an other special factor. To her, it was simply not something to worry about," Allison said.
Several people reported seeing Mita wandering around the courthouse the afternoon and evening that he died. However, since the report was not forwarded to police officers, no one knew that Mita was a missing person.
The Spokane County Coroner determined that Mita's cause of death was hypothermia.
The trial is expected to last several days. A jury will then have to decide if the county was negligent in the way it handled Mita's missing person report and if that is what led to his death.
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