Jury: Parole officer whose son used his duty gun to kill himself not liable for death
Parole Officer Glenn Greening left the loaded gun in his living room and fell asleep watching TV, waking the next day to find it missing
Suicide is always preventable. If you are having thoughts of suicide or feeling suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline immediately at 800-273-8255. Counselors are also available to chat at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. Remember: You deserve to be supported, and it is never too late to seek help. Speak with someone today.
By Maxine Bernstein
EUGENE, Ore. — A federal jury Thursday found no negligence involved in the suicide of an 18-year-old who killed himself with his father’s loaded duty pistol left out on a desk in the living room of his home.
Jurors determined neither the father, Glenn Greening, nor his employer, Lane County Parole and Probation, was liable in the death of William Han Manstrom-Greening five years ago.
The jury deliberated for only about 90 minutes before unanimously reaching the verdict after three and a half days of testimony this week in U.S. District Court in Eugene.
Both parents took the witness stand in an emotional civil trial that pitted the teen’s mother against her ex-husband and detailed what led up to their son’s decision to pull the trigger in the early hours of Valentine’s Day 2017.
Carol Manstrom said she brought the case with the hope of sending a message to law enforcement agencies that they must require their officers to safely secure their guns both on and off duty.
“It is my hope that because of this case some law enforcement officer’s child or family member will live to see another day,” Manstrom testified. She and Greening divorced 16 years before their son’s death.
Manstrom last year lobbied lawmakers to pass Oregon Senate Bill 554, which became law Sept. 25, requiring owners to secure their guns with a trigger lock or keep them locked away when not in their control.
The teen’s immediate access to a loaded gun allowed him to act on impulse and take his life in an instant, said Jennifer J. Middleton, one of Manstrom’s lawyers, during her closing argument.
“William Han Manstrom-Greening did not have to die,” Middleton said.
But lawyers for Lane County and Greening suggested instead that his grieving mother’s lingering animosity toward her ex-husband, a natural “need to blame” others and greed motivated her to file the suit.
Manstrom sought $4.8 million in damages: $3 million for the loss of her son and his companionship, plus $1.8 million for the loss of his expected earning capacity.
“The cause of the harm was Will’s suicidal intention. The gun was a mere instrumentality,” said Bruce C. Moore, Greening’s attorney. “Unfortunately, Mr. Greening is an easy target because she can’t stand him anyway.”
‘HE WAS UTTERLY ALONE’
Greening, a probation officer for Lane County, came home Feb. 13, 2017, and locked his loaded Glock 19 9mm duty gun in a safe.
His son had stayed home from school that day, saying he was sick with flu-like symptoms, Greening said. He didn’t know the teen and his girlfriend had broken up the month before, he testified. He said his son was in bed that night with fever and had gone to sleep.
Later that night, Greening took the gun out and left it on a desk in the living room as he fell asleep in a recliner watching TV in another room.
Greening, who supervises violent felons on probation, said he did that to protect both him and his son and so the gun would be handy to take to work the next day.
He described his son, a senior at Marist High School, as an extremely responsible teenager and said he trusted him not to touch it.
The next morning, as Greening was getting ready to go to work, he noticed his gun gone and lights on in the house. His son wasn’t in his bedroom. Greening found his body in the garage.
Manstrom-Greening had his father’s gun in one hand when a Eugene officer arrived early Feb. 14.
The mother’s lawyers argued that the county’s failure at the time to require its probation officers to properly secure their duty weapons at home contributed to Will’s death. Since the suicide, the county has adopted a policy requiring safe home storage of the guns.
Middleton said the 18-year-old acted in the middle of the night “when he was utterly alone.”
“The only sure thing he had at that moment was a loaded Glock 19, which he had taken from its usual resting place, on the table in the living room,” she told jurors.
Greening, his lawyers and county lawyers countered that no one saw the 18-year-old display or express any suicidal ideations. It was Manstrom-Greening’s decision alone to end his life, they said.
They argued that the teen didn’t act without thought but had meticulously planned his suicide, writing multiple notes and leaving gifts for family and friends, as well as specific instructions on how he wanted to be buried.
Lane County’s lawyer, Stephen E. Dingle, said everyone feels empathy and sympathy for both parents, but he urged jurors to decide based on the facts of the case and the law.
All agree, Dingle said, that the young man’s death was tragic, that no one knows exactly why he took his life and no one had any idea that he was going to kill himself.
Moore, Greening’s lawyer, said Greening’s son had reached an age of maturity and made his own decision that everyone wishes they could have prevented.
Greening testified that when his son turned 18, he gave him the combination to the gun safe, where he stored other firearms. If Greening had locked the gun away that night, Manstrom-Greening still would have been able to access the safe, he said.
“Does Mr. Greening regret that gun was on that table? Till the day he dies,” Moore told the jury.
‘PLEASE DO NOT FEEL GUILTY’
U.S. District Judge Michael J. McShane had previously dismissed the claims against Greening, but a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals revived them a year ago.
The panel sent the case back to the district court a year ago, finding that a “reasonable jury could find that William’s suicide was within the realm of foreseeable risks resulting from Greening’s act of leaving his loaded gun readily accessible and unsecured.”
Under state law, a person is negligent if he acted unreasonably, and, as a result, somebody suffered foreseeable harm.
While the gun used in the suicide was the one Greening used at work, he personally owned it, county lawyers stressed.
Greening’s lawyer urged jurors to listen to the 18-year-old’s own words, left behind in a typewritten note for his dad.
Moore read the note:
“Im sorry, im so so sorry. I love you so much. You’re the world to me and i don’t expect you to ever forgive me for doing this. There are no words for the sorrow i feel for putting this on you. Please do not feel guilty there was nothing you could have done to change this outcome. I’m weak and choose death over the struggles in life. Be strong, find a new purpose, live so my memory will continue on in someone’s mind.
“Please do not take out the grief and frustration on my mother. She too will feel the loss. I have no words for this situation other than I love you. I’ve felt your love since the first day that i can remember and I feel your love no matter what happens after death. I walk along your side side in this life or the next. In person or in memory.
“With eternal love, Your baby boy. William Han Greening-Manstrom”
Manstrom-Greening was born in Vietnam and adopted when he was 11 months old by the couple in August 1999. His parents divorced in 2001 when Manstrom-Greening was 3.
Manstrom gained custody but about two years before his death, the teen chose to live with his father, according to trial testimony.
‘HOPE LIVES WILL BE SAVED’
The trial revealed yearslong acrimony between the two parents.
In 2004, Manstrom, also a Lane County probation officer at the time, reported to Greening’s manager in the county probation office that her ex-husband had threatened her.
The complaint led to a psychological evaluation that Greening failed and he was suspended from carrying a gun on the job in 2004.
Eight years later, he was reauthorized to carry a gun without passing another psychological evaluation, trial testimony showed.
Manstrom-Greening had been put on an antidepressant when he was 16, but he didn’t think the treatment was necessary and had stopped taking the medication by the time he moved in with his father in February 2015, according to testimony.
Manstrom testified that the last time she saw her son was on Feb. 11, 2017, when she accompanied him to a photographer to take his senior photos.
She had ordered a high school ring for him and gave it to him then. He wore it with his letterman jacket for his photos. He had been accepted to attend Oregon State University, where he planned to study engineering, she said.
The 18-year-old was getting ready to start his varsity track season. After meeting with the photographer, Manstrom took him out to lunch for a burger.
Three days later, Manstrom was driving her other two sons to school when she got a rare call from her ex-husband. She told him she’d call him back, that she was driving.
Then her neighbor called, wondering if she was OK because he had seen a crisis intervention van outside her home.
Next Eugene police called. An officer said he needed to talk to her about her son Will. She immediately asked: “Where’s my son? Is he OK?” she said. The officer said he needed to meet her in person.
“And then I knew,” she said, sobbing on the stand.
She pulled off the freeway and an officer met her and told her what had happened. She drove to her ex-husband’s home because she wanted to be with her son. “I had to be with him,” Manstrom said faintly through tears.
She saw her son removed on a wheeled gurney and pulled back the sheet. He had on his letterman jacket and his class ring, she recalled.
An officer gave her a note her son had left for her:
“I want you to know that nothing you could have done could have changed what happened. This was my fight and this outcome is my decision.”
His father’s lawyer asked Manstrom: “Do you believe Will when he told you there was nothing you could have done to change what happened?”
“No,” she said. “I do not believe that.”
After the verdict was announced, David Park, another lawyer representing Manstrom, issued a statement:
“We want to thank the jury for their service during a difficult and emotional trial. Nothing can bring Will back, but we hope this case has increased awareness about the dangers of unsafe gun storage. Ultimately, we hope lives will be saved because of it, and we’re so proud of Carol’s tireless advocacy on behalf of suicide prevention.”
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