BOSTON (CBS) – The family of a murdered Vietnam veteran is filing a wrongful death lawsuit against the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services (DYS) and a state-contracted facility, alleging negligent security and oversight allowed an accused teen killer to escape.
Alexander Mills is charged with the execution-style murder of New Bedford cab driver Donald DePina in November 2015. More than two weeks earlier, he had escaped from the Old Colony YMCA in Fall River, a facility that provides service for DYS.
“Mr. DePina’s death was a tragedy that should never have happened,” said attorney Michael Franco.
As WBZ-TV’s I-Team first reported last year, an internal review concluded that a communication failure and absence of an alarm on a door allowed Mills to slip away from the “staff secure” program.
Following that review, DYS told WBZ it was in the process of implementing changes to improve security and supervision at its programs.
The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Bristol County Superior Court, claims DYS and the Old Colony YMCA were too slow to address the issue of youth escapees. It also alleges Mills was a high-risk offender with a criminal history who should have been housed in a locked facility.
“DYS has a recurring and system problem with offenders escaping from its facilities,” the lawsuit said. “DYS made no efforts to address these serious deficiencies before Mr. DePina’s death.”
Following the murder, the I-Team discovered that several hundred teens under DYS supervision had escaped from the state-operated programs over a four-year period.
From 2012 thru 2015, records obtained by WBZ documented 271 escapes. The majority of the youth returned within three days.
However, ten escapees remained on the loose for more than 90 days. Thirty-five youth returned to state supervision with new criminal charges.
According to the internal review, Mills took advantage of a communication failure among DYS staff members. The staff person responsible for supervising Mills’ transition to another floor at the program did not communicate with the staff member on the other floor, the report revealed.
The lawsuit also includes three unnamed employees as defendants for their role in the escape and subsequent search.
The civil complaint claims DYS was slow to contact local law enforcement agencies and waited two weeks to call Massachusetts State Police. It also says there was a failure to monitor Mills’ public Facebook postings about attending a hotel party about 24 hours prior to the murder.
“These delays were negligent, grossly negligent, and/or reckless and hindered apprehension efforts,” the suit said. “These acts and omissions caused and/or materially contributed to Mr. DePina’s death.”
Mills is being held without bail on murder charges and no trial date has been scheduled.