Nearly 30 years later, family of slain California college student sues school for wrongful death

Jan 18, 2024, 5:57 PM

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. (AP) — The family of a California college student who vanished nearly three decades ago sued the school on Thursday, alleging it caused Kristin Smart’s murder through negligence.

Smart, then 19, disappeared from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo on the state’s scenic Central Coast over Memorial Day weekend in 1996. Her remains have never been found, but she was declared legally dead in 2002.

Paul Flores was arrested in 2021, convicted of first-degree murder in 2022 and sentenced last year to 25 years to life in state prison.

Prosecutors say Flores killed Smart during an attempted rape on May 25, 1996, in his dorm room at the university, where they were both first-year students. He was the last person seen with Smart as he walked home with her from an off-campus party.

On Thursday, Smart’s parents, brother and sister sued the university for wrongful death and negligence, alleging that officials could have prevented her death if they had properly dealt with university police reports filed by four other female students. Those students said Flores had stalked and harassed them in the months leading up to Smart’s disappearance.

In one case, Flores allegedly tried to break into a student’s apartment, according to the lawsuit.

The reports should have prompted the university to investigate, and suspend or expel Flores, removing him from on-campus housing and sending him back home “miles away from Kristin and the dorm room where he murdered her,” the lawsuit said.

“Had the university acted properly, conducted a thorough investigation into Flores’ past concerning behavior, and implemented appropriate disciplinary measures, Kristin would likely still be alive today. Instead, our family has been left to grieve her absence for 27 agonizing years,” a family statement said.

The suit also contends that the university failed to pursue a proper and timely investigation into Smart’s disappearance, including failing to seal Flores’ dorm room and allowing it to be cleaned before it was finally searched 16 days after Smart vanished.

In an email, Cal Poly spokesperson Matt Lazier said the university had no comment because “this is a pending legal matter.”

However, last May, university President Jeffrey Armstrong publicly apologized to the family for how it handled the investigation into her disappearance.

“While it is a different administration now than was in place in 1996, we recognize that things should had been done differently — and I personally wish that they had,” he said.

The family only realized Cal Poly’s alleged negligence after that apology because relatives didn’t have any access to the university’s investigative file, according to the lawsuit.

“Even now, the Smart family still does not know what information, in the possession of Cal Poly’s president, and uniquely available to him and or Cal Poly, led him to make the apology,” the suit said.

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Nearly 30 years later, family of slain California college student sues school for wrongful death