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Family of woman killed in Schenectady basement files lawsuit

Family of woman killed in Schenectady basement files lawsuit

Agency allegedly knew killer was dangerous
Family of woman killed in Schenectady basement files lawsuit
Valerie Washington was found dead in the basement of a Union Street home in Schenectady.

The family of the woman found murdered two years ago in a Union Street basement is suing the organization that placed her killer in the building where she lived.

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The family of Valerie Washington contends the organization, Mohawk Opportunities, knew of the dangers Harold Michael Ortiz posed to residents, and Washington in particular, and failed to warn anyone but their own employees.

The 2015 attack by Ortiz left Washington dead in the basement of 1330 Union St. and another tenant, Ralph Carson, near death. Ortiz is now serving 30 years to life in prison for both attacks.

According to the Washington suit, both Washington and Ortiz were clients of Mohawk Opportunities. Washington already lived at the Union Street address and Mohawk placed Ortiz there in late-August 2015.

By that time, the lawsuit claims, Mohawk staff was afraid of what Ortiz was capable of and had a safety plan in place based on an in-office incident.  Mohawk advised staff not to allow themselves to be alone with Ortiz, the suit reads.

Ortiz later complained to a Mohawk employee about Washington, saying "someone will do or ought to do something to her," according to the suit.

"Mohawk Opportunities knew about this guy's propensities, that he made a clear threat to someone, having made that threat to Valerie," attorney Steve Kouray, who represents the estate, said Thursday. "They owed her a duty to warn and they failed in that duty."

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Crime scene tape surrounds 1330 Union St. on Sept. 3, 2015. (Peter R. Barber)

Joe Gallagher, executive director of Mohawk Opportunities, said Thursday he was not aware of the suit and couldn’t comment. Building owner Nandini Singh is also named as a defendant. Singh could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit is the second to be filed against Mohawk in the wake of the 2015 attacks. Carson, the man who survived, filed his lawsuit in November.

Carson's attorney E. Robert Keach made similar arguments. He contended the agency took responsibility for Ortiz by placing him there and that Ortiz displayed multiple warning signs that Mohawk Opportunities failed to act on.

Ortiz, 44, most recently of Schenectady, pleaded guilty a year ago to second-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping and other charges in exchange for the lengthy prison sentence.

Authorities found Carson and Washington’s body buried under piles of debris in the apartment building’s basement Sept. 2, 2015.

At the time of the attack, Ortiz, an ex-con, had recently been released from prison after serving 17 years for an attempted murder conviction in New York City. 

Kouray got his information in the suit through his own investigation and through the criminal case, he said.

He noted one Aug. 27, 2015 incident, in which he contended Ortiz invited a Mohawk employee to the basement at 1330 Union so he could show her supposed code violations he wanted to fix.

The employee refused to go, the suit reads, because she was afraid of Ortiz.

That same day, Ortiz waited for National Grid to come and connect his apartment power, but they never came. He then ran a wire from the basement to his apartment, the suit reads.

Ortiz, speaking to a Mohawk employee the next day, accused Washington of going to the landlord about the wire. He then called Washington "nosy, a busy body" and told the employee "that someone was going to get fed up with her because she was in everyone's business," the suit reads.

But, the suit contends, Mohawk Opportunities relayed none of that information to Washington.

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