Kaylee Sawyer's family sues Lara, COCC in federal court

Allegations outlined; link to full lawsuit below

Sawyer files civil suit against COCC...

(Update: Adding details of allegations, attorney comment, COCC president statement, link to full lawsuit)

The family of Bend homicide victim Kaylee Sawyer has filed a federal lawsuit against the community college that employed the man charged in the crime. 

Police say Edwin Lara kidnapped Sawyer in late July 2016 while working as a campus safety officer at Central Oregon Community College.

The lawsuit filed Monday in Eugene asserts the woman accepted a ride from Lara, believing he was a police officer she could trust. Instead, she became trapped in a patrol car equipped with a cage and doors that wouldn't open from the inside.

The lawsuit alleges the college failed to do an adequate background check on Lara and was negligent in providing officers with uniforms and vehicles made to resemble police.

Lara and three campus officials are also listed as defendants. Lara has pleaded not guilty to murder and other crimes, and two weeks of pre-trial evidence hearings concluded last week, to resume in September.

The lawsuit names college President Shirley Metcalf, Vice President for Administration Matthew McCoy and James Bennett, who was director of campus public safety.

The lawsuit alleges civil rights violations as well as state law claims of false imprisonment, assault, battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, common law negligence, gross negligence/reckless misconduct, professional misconduct, abuse of a vulnerable person and wrongful death.

The introduction to the lawsuit lays out the alleged sequence of events that began on the night of July 23, 2016, when Sawyer attended a bachelorette party, had some alcohol and called her fiancee for a ride, after which the two argued.

"Sawyer left her apartment after midnight to cool off, and wound up walking" the COCC campus, where she was a student, the suit said.

Around 1:30 a.m., Lara, an on-duty campus security officer, saw Sawyer and began talking with her, realized she was intoxicated and "under that pretext, offered to give her a ride home," the document states.

"Because Edwin E. Lara was dressed in a law enforcement uniform, and was driving a law enforcement vehicle, she ultimately agreed to accept that ride," the lawsuit states.

Lara then asked Sawyer "to get into the back of his patrol car," which the suit says she was not aware "contained a cage, and the rear doors could not be opened from the inside."

Once in the car, Lara "propositioned her for sex in exchange of money," but she refused, the suit claims.

As a result, the lawsuit alleges, "Lara refused to let Kaylee Sawyer out of the back of his car, demanded her purse and phone, strangled her to the point she lost consciousness, moved her to a secluded campus parking lot, strangled her again to the point she lost consciousness, struck her in the head with a rock to knock her out ... raped her, then killed her by crushing her head with a larger rock."

"Kaylee Sawyer's needless death was a direct result of the misconduct of Central Oregon Community College and its employees," the lawsuit claims.

Bend defense attorney Bryan Donahue has dealt with civil cases before, and he tells NewsChannel 21 this is a very complex case. 

"In a criminal case, you're looking at proving guilt that someone is responsible, or caused or did whatever the state is alleging, in the civil context you're trying to prove liability," Donahue said Wednesday. 

Central Oregon Community College President Dr. Shirley Metcalf issued the following statement after the lawsuit was filed:

"This was a senseless and horrific crime. We share in our community's sense of loss over Kaylee Sawyer's death. As educators, we seek to create a better future for young people, and to see a life cut short this way is heartbreaking.

"We are reviewing the lawsuit details. In the meantime we offer our most sincere condolences to Kaylee's family and friends.”

Here is the full 34-page lawsuit (Adobe PDF format)

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