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May 26, 2022

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Lawsuits claim Urban League, property managers could have prevented deadly 2021 shooting in Seattle

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SEATTLE — The shooting that killed 23-year-old Anais Valencia and wounded her friend in a Seattle parking lot last February could have been prevented if property owners and managers hadn’t turned a blind eye to the gunman’s violent tendencies and drug use, say two lawsuits filed on behalf of Valencia’s family, the injured woman, and a friend who witnessed the shooting’s aftermath.

“When you look at the facts of what happened here, it seems not only foreseeable but almost inevitable,” said Cheryl Snow, the Seattle attorney representing Kaylee Thompson, who survived despite being shot three times, and Jahyaire Wilson, who heard the gunshots and ran to help his friends.

A wrongful death lawsuit filed Jan. 7 on behalf of Valencia’s parents and stepfather and a personal injury lawsuit filed last week by Thompson and Wilson both name the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, which owns the property where the shootings occurred, as a defendant.

Also named is Coast Property Management, which manages the 36-unit Urban League Village Apartments, and Security of America, a private security company the plaintiffs say were responsible for patrolling the grounds outside the apartment building and the Northwest African American Museum, located in the 2300 block of South Massachusetts Street.

The lawsuits allege negligence and breach of duty to protect against foreseeable harm and seek general and special damages to be decided at trial. Snow said the two lawsuits will probably be consolidated.

Gregory Taylor, the 45-year-old gunman who shot Valencia and Thompson on Feb. 9, was fatally shot by responding Seattle police officers. He was a tenant of the Urban League Village Apartments and worked five hours a week as a groundskeeper and janitor for Coast Property Management, the lawsuits say.

Taylor boasted about his gang affiliation, was a known drug user and felon who had previously brandished a handgun and threatened others with it, and had a history of abusing his domestic partners, according to Snow and Dann Sheffield, one of the attorneys representing Valencia’s parents, stepfather and siblings. Despite his history of aggressive and disturbing behavior, including an incident a week before the shootings that was documented by Seattle police, Taylor wasn’t evicted or fired, Snow and Sheffield said.

Maisha Houston, the Urban League’s director of human resources, declined to comment on the lawsuits. Ray Cox, the attorney representing Coast Property Management and its parent company, Hoban Holdings, did not return a phone call seeking comment. A man named Joe, who declined to give his last name, said Security of America and its parent company, the Armani Group, were not under contract to provide security at the time of the shootings.

A statement about the shooting was posted on the Urban League’s website three days after Valencia was killed.

“The Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle is working with Coast Property Management, which manages the Urban League Village, to ensure they are serving the needs of residents and commercial tenants by providing grief counseling and increasing onsite security,” the statement reads in part. “Our highest priority is the safety and well-being of residents and the community.”

The three young people had driven together to the Urban League Village Apartments around 9 p.m. on Feb. 9 so Wilson, who lived in one of the apartments with his mother, could grab his laptop and other belongings before spending the night at Valencia’s house in Tacoma, according to the lawsuits and news accounts.

The women waited inside Valencia’s blue Toyota Prius in the parking lot outside the Northwest African American Museum and the 36 affordable-housing apartments that share the building that once housed the former Charles Colman School.

Video surveillance footage shows that Valencia and Thompson were immediately confronted by a man, later identified as Taylor, who was armed with a handgun as he yelled at the women and banged on the hood of their car, says the lawsuit filed by Snow. Taylor fired into the vehicle multiple times when Valencia, who was in the driver’s seat, refused to roll down her window.

Valencia was shot numerous times, according to the suits. Thompson, who was shot in the chest, arm and wrist, crawled into the backseat and called 911. An Auburn resident, Thompson didn’t know her location as she pleaded with a dispatcher to send help for her dying friend.

Seattle police released recordings of 911 calls made by Thompson and an apartment resident along with video from officers’ body-worn cameras the evening after the shootings. In the video, several gunshots can be heard before a man is seen walking from the parking lot onto South Massachusetts Street with a gun in his hand. Police said at the time that Taylor shot at officers, who returned fire, killing him.

The lawsuit filed by Snow lists Taylor’s felony convictions from the 1990s and early 2000s for assault, robbery and other crimes, and notes that his ex-wife described years of abuse, including Taylor holding a gun to her head, shoving a gun in her mouth, beating her and threatening to kill her.

A few months before the shootings, Taylor had reportedly held a gun to a man’s head in the same parking lot — and witnesses reported their concerns about Taylor to property managers, the lawsuit says. A week before Valencia was killed, Seattle police responded to the parking lot, where Taylor was seen bleeding and crawling on all fours while apparently high on PCP, according to the suit, citing a police report and witness statements.

Sheffield, the attorney representing Valencia’s family, called her death “absolutely senseless” and said she and Thompson were innocent people who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

An honor student at Tacoma Community College, Valencia planned to transfer to the University of Washington and hoped to become a veterinarian, he said.

Her friends Thompson and Wilson have both been seriously impacted by Valencia’s death, Snow said. Thompson, 23, still has medical needs after being shot and Wilson, 21, feels guilt over what happened. Snow said Wilson and his mother moved out of the Urban League Village because it was too emotionally difficult to stay there.

“They are having a rough go of things,” she said of her clients, who are both in therapy as a result of the shootings.

“It’s obvious Coast Property and the Urban League knew about the risk Gregory Taylor posed and they looked the other way,” Snow said. “What I want to get to is why, because it just doesn’t make sense.”

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