The fallout from the notorious 1998 death of Ronda Reynolds has taken another turn.
The woman’s former stepson and husband have filed a complaint for damages alleging that Lewis County Coroner Warren McLeod’s inquest into her death was “scandalous and libelous and did severe damage to the plaintiffs’ reputations and integrity.”
The lawsuit for unspecified damages was filed Friday in Lewis County Superior Court more than two years after an unprecedented coroner’s inquest into Ronda Reynolds disputed death.
After the seven-day coroner’s inquest and about 10 hours of deliberations, a five-person jury ruled on Oct. 19, 2011, that Reynolds’ death was a homicide and not a suicide as was originally determined, and that her husband, Ronald Reynolds, and oldest stepson, Jonathan Reynolds, were potentially responsible.
The Olympia attorney for the two plaintiffs, Rick Cordes, said Monday he did not know how much money they would be asking in damages, but that the inquest resulted in the loss of employment for both men.
“Their lives have been pretty much turned upside down for nothing they did,” Cordes said.
The Lewis County coroner, who presided over the 2011 inquest, declined to comment on the pending lawsuit.
The complaint alleges that there was no legal basis for the inquest, and that it was done in a “negligent and reckless manner” that was not designed to seek the truth but rather a specific outcome — to rule Reynolds’ death a homicide.
At the end of the inquest, McLeod issued warrants for the arrest of both Ron and Jonathan Reynolds even though the sheriff’s office and prosecutor’s office made it clear they would not be pursuing murder charges against the men due to lack of evidence.
The state attorney general’s office and other coroners said at the time that they believed the arrest warrants are the first a coroner has issued in modern history — perhaps in the history of the state.
Both men were arrested and brought to Lewis County Superior Court, “creating a public spectacle of wide publicity and severely damaging the reputation and integrity” of both men, according to the claim. Both men were released shortly after without being charged.
As a result,of the highly publicized inquest that named the men as suspects in the Reynolds’ death, Ronald lost his employment with the Toledo School District and his ability to find other suitable employment was damaged, the claim states.
“I mean he basically lost his job and he is unemployable,” Cordes said.
In August 2012, the Toledo School District agreed to pay Ron Reynolds a total of $140,000 over the course of three years as part of the separation agreement. Reynolds resigned as the city’s elementary school principal at the end of August 2012, per the agreement. He had been on paid administrative since the previous October following the results of the inquest.
Ronda Reynolds was found dead, lying on the floor of her bedroom closet with a gunshot wound to her head, on Dec. 16, 1998 inside their Toledo home.
At the time of Reynolds’ death, then-Lewis County Coroner Terry Wilson first ruled Reynolds’ manner of death undetermined before changing it later to suicide.
After Reynolds’ death on Dec. 16, 1998, the manner changed over the years to undetermined and back to suicide as the sheriff’s office and state Attorney General’s office re-opened and investigated the case.
Ronda Reynold’s mother, Barb Thompson, who led efforts to clear her daughter’s name of suicide for years, took the coroner’s office to court for its final ruling in November 2009 for an unprecedented civil hearing in which a jury ruled Wilson had been “arbitrary and capricious” when he ruled Reynolds’ manner of death a suicide. A superior court judge ordered Wilson to review the case again, but he appealed.
According to the claim for damages, Thompson, with the help of a former detective and other people, conducted her own investigation in Reynolds’ death prior to the inquest.
“Although information this investigation allegedly discovered (much of it was not true) was shared with Lewis County law enforcement, the opinions as to the cause of death by Lewis County law enforcement personnel did not change,” the claim states.
When McLeod ran for the elected position of coroner in 2010, a large part of his campaign was that he would have the death of Ronda Reynolds reinvestigated and that the death would be found to be a homicide, according to the claim.
McLeod took office in January of 2011 and ruled Reynolds’ manner of death undetermined to open the door for the inquest later that year. Authorities say this inquest was the first to take place in Lewis County in the past 50 years.
The claim alleges that McLeod, and the coroner’s office, did not have jurisdiction over the deceased’s body, as Reynolds was cremated shortly after her death was initially ruled a suicide.
“The conduct of the inquest was designed to bring out a specific result,” according to the claim, and was “conducted in a manner that violated due process and fundamental fairness.”
Despite the death occurring 13 years prior, McLeod’s inquest was “at great expense to the county and knowing that regardless of the result of the inquest no charges would be filed against anyone.”
In 2011, McLeod told The Chronicle that he estimated it cost the county between $30,000 and $35,000.
In 2010, true crime-author Ann Rule brought Reynolds’ death to national attention with her publication of “In the Still of the Night: The Strange Death of Ronda Reynolds and Her Mother’s Unceasing Quest for the Truth.”
Following the inquest, “48 Hours Mystery" aired an hour-long documentary on Reynolds' death titled "Mystery on Twin Peaks Drive."
The coroner’s office will next respond to the claim for damages. An attorney for the coroner’s office could not be reached.