KING COUNTY, Wash. - The family of Karin Riebe has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the King County Sheriff's Office for its alleged role in her tragic death.
The lawsuit accuses the county of failing to protect Karin from her son despite her desperate call for help, in a domestic violence incident on September 14, 2021.
On that morning in 2021, Karin Riebe's adult son, Shawn, experienced a severe mental health episode. Shawn, who lived with his mother, brandished a firearm and threatened her, demanding that she leave their home. Fearing for her life and deeply concerned for her son's well-being, Karin dialed 911.
According to the lawsuit, instead of taking the necessary steps required by Washington State's domestic violence laws, King County deputies allegedly informed Karin that they could not arrest Shawn for his actions or involuntarily detain him for mental health evaluation. Despite Shawn's behavior and the imminent danger posed by the firearm, the county advised Karin to stay away from her own residence until Shawn had "cooled down."
The lawsuit further contends that the county cited House Bill 1310, enacted by the Washington state legislature earlier that summer, as a pretext to avoid detaining Shawn. The bill clarified the permissible use of force by law enforcement officers, but according to the lawsuit, the County misapplied it in this situation.
Later that same day, after following the county's advice to wait for Shawn to "cool down," Karin returned home. Tragically, Shawn was still armed and in a state of mental crisis. As Karin attempted to enter her house, Shawn shot and killed her.
Only after the shooting did law enforcement officers surround the house, resulting in a seven-hour standoff before Shawn was arrested and charged with murder. He is currently in custody, awaiting trial, and is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
According to Karin's sisters, Jan Timm and Colleen Jensen, she and Shawn were "inseparable" at one point. Shawn had moved into her home in the summer of 2021 after a breakup.
"They were best friends," Jensen said. "Karin would do anything for that son of hers and vice versa," Timm said.
Shawn was an Army veteran and his aunts said he had PTSD from serving in Iraq-- having seen two friends killed by a suicide bomber.
Jensen says Karin immediately started calling the VA Crisis Line trying to get him the help he needed. But the move allegedly threw him into a tailspin.
Lead counsel for the plaintiffs, Lisa Benedetti of Stritmatter Kessler Koehler Moore law firm, emphasized that Washington's domestic violence laws are unequivocal in requiring the arrest of individuals who threaten others with deadly weapons.
"The County weaponized other inapplicable laws to avoid doing its duty. Karin Riebe begged for the County's aid. Instead, it abandoned her, leaving her helpless to return to her own home safely," said Benedetti. "They must be held accountable for their role in her death."
In a statement, the family of Karin Riebe expressed their sorrow and determination to seek justice:
"Our family is seeking justice for Karin, and to hold the King County Sheriff's Office accountable for her death. Karin was the best sister anyone could have. She was a kind, caring, loving person with a heart that was bigger than life itself. And she had the most infectious laugh! Karin begged for help that day from the police, for both herself and her son Shawn. The police could have prevented her death, but they did not step up and protect her. She received nothing from them but ill-advised words. BaaBoo (our nickname for Karin) will forever be in our hearts."
"If we can make change somehow so this never happens to another family; if we could save at least one person from this ever happening again, then we've won," Jensen told FOX 13.
When reached for comment, the King County Sheriff's Office provided the following statement to FOX 13 News: "KCSO is unable to comment at this time due to pending litigation."