LINCOLN — The State of Nebraska is being asked to pay $7.5 million in damages in connection with the slaying of Andrea Kruger during an Aug. 21 carjacking in northwest Omaha.
Kruger, a 33-year-old married mother of three, was pulled out of her sport utility vehicle, shot four times and left in the middle of the street.
Nikko Jenkins, who had been released from prison only three weeks earlier, is charged with first-degree murder in her death and the slayings of three other people in Omaha during a 10-day period.
Monday, Kruger’s husband, Michael-Ryan Kruger, filed a state tort claim — a forerunner to a civil lawsuit — claiming that the state was negligent in releasing Jenkins from prison.
The claim alleges that the state failed to treat or properly diagnose Jenkins’ “serious mental health issues,” improperly calculated “good time” reductions in his sentence and erred in releasing him instead of seeking his commitment to a mental hospital.
“It was foreseeable to the state that Jenkins would harm innocent persons upon his early, negligent release,” says the claim, filed by Lincoln attorney Vince Powers.
A spokeswoman for the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services declined to comment Tuesday.
In the past, corrections officials have said they were required by law and prison rules to release Jenkins because his sentence had ended. Jenkins served 10½ years of an 18- to 21-year sentence for robbery before being released from prison on July 30.
His case has inspired calls to change the state’s “good time” laws, which award inmates a one-day reduction in their sentences for every day they serve in prison, effectively cutting a prison sentence in half.
Gov. Dave Heineman and others have said hardened criminals should be required to earn good time through good behavior, instead of getting it automatically.
Such critics say Jenkins should have lost more good time for assaults and other misbehavior while in prison and should have been kept in prison longer. He spent about 60 percent of his time in prison in segregation because of disciplinary violations.
Jenkins’ family and others, including State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, have said that Jenkins’ pleas for mental health treatment were ignored by prison officials and that helped spawn suicidal and homicidal thoughts.
Jenkins, according to police, has said Kruger’s killing was a sacrifice that he made to an Egyptian serpent demon god that he dubbed “Opophis.” Police have said the motive was greed — to steal Kruger’s 2012 Chevrolet Traverse to commit more carjackings.
Historically, the state claims board denies such requests for damages. That clears the way, after six months, for a civil lawsuit to be filed.
As of Tuesday, no other state claims had been filed in connection with the three other slayings in which Jenkins is charged.
Powers said Tuesday that state prison officials violated their own rules concerning loss of good time for violent offenses while behind bars and released Jenkins too soon.
“We expect that we’ll find that the prison system isolated Nikko Jenkins because he was dangerous to convicted criminals, and ignored his violations and let him out early,” he said. “There’s a whole system set up for getting good time and losing good time, and none of that was followed.”
The claim also alleges that corrections officials were negligent in allowing state prisons to become overcrowded. But it doesn’t spell out how the overcrowding, which has hovered at 50 percent above capacity, might have contributed to the slaying.
In prison, Jenkins was diagnosed in 2010 as having an anti-social personality disorder, a condition involving manipulation and a lack of empathy for others. Doctors have said such anti-social disorders are not a mental illness but a personality disorder, and are best handled by incarceration in prison, not treatment in a mental hospital.
Longtime Correctional Services Director Bob Houston abruptly retired after questions were raised about the Jenkins case. A working group has been formed in the Nebraska Legislature to address issues of prison overcrowding and good time.
Recently released inmates, or prisoners on work release or furlough, have been linked to six deaths in the past year.
In addition to the four slayings tied to Jenkins, on Sept. 16, 2012, Omaha police shot and killed Jermaine Lucas, a 29-year-old inmate on a weekend furlough, after police say he lunged for a gun during a standoff on an Omaha street. Police questioned why Lucas, who had a history of violence and gang involvement, was released on furlough.
Then, on June 25, 2013, an inmate on work release, Jeremy Dobbe, was driving a state van that slammed nearly head-on into another van driven by a Lincoln woman, Joyce Meeks, who was killed. Meeks’ family filed a $5 million state claim in July, alleging that the state was negligent for allowing Dobbe, who had a history of drunken driving and careless driving convictions, to drive.
Correction: The Associated Press misidentified Michael-Ryan Kruger in a previous version of this story.