Federal lawsuit in triple homicide dismissed

Evansville - A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed against Vanderburgh County officials over the deaths of three people shot by a man who was on work release for a robbery conviction.

Travis John Moore, 21, was working a night job in 2005 when authorities say he kicked in the front door of his former girlfriend's apartment, shot her and two friends to death and then killed himself.

Relatives of his former girlfriend, Sheena Sandage-Shofner, and victim Alfonzo Small filed the lawsuit that sought unspecified damages from the Vanderburgh County Commissioners, the Sheriff's Department, former Sheriff Brad Ellsworth, who is now a congressman, and others.

The lawsuit claimed the county's actions deprived the two victims, who were both 28, of life without due process of law, in violation of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It also said the defendants were liable for the women's deaths under Indiana law.

But U.S. District Court Judge Sarah Evans Barker wrote in her decision Wednesday that there was no indication to county officials that Moore would become violent.

Barker wrote that Moore had been on work release for several months and, with the exception of two harassment complaints against him from Sandage-Shofner, officials had no indication of any violent tendencies. The day he killed the women, a drug counselor employed by the county had called Moore's caseworker to report he was doing well in his program, the judge wrote.

"Based on the information available to the defendants at the time of the murders, it was far from clear that Travis Moore was violent to such a degree as would render his horrific actions ... foreseeable to the defendants," Barker's ruling said.

Attorney Keith Vonderahe, who represented the county, said the Sheriff's Department did all it could do.

"It was a very tragic set of events, but at the end of the day, this guy Travis Moore went out and killed these people," Vonderahe said.

A message was left Thursday from Fred Schultz, the attorney for the victims' families. He previously had called the incident a complete breakdown, saying Moore was supposed to be serving time but was able to get a gun. A similar lawsuit is pending in Vanderburgh Circuit Court.

Moore had been sentenced to a work-release center on a robbery conviction but was allowed to leave at night for work and was unsupervised in his job cleaning parking lots at his father's business.

Police said Moore kicked in the door of Sandage-Shofner's apartment about 3 a.m. and shot her, Small and Tara Dean Jenkins before shooting himself.

After the shootings, the county made changes that included requiring work-release inmates to take jobs from an approved list of employers and to obtain special approval for third-shift jobs. Inmates are no longer permitted to work at jobs where a family member is a supervisor and any complaints or tips about inmates are documented and promptly investigated.

Another man in the apartment at the time of shootings escaped by jumping from a second-story window, police said.

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