The family of Kristin Smart, a freshman who disappeared from a California campus in 1996, is suing the school for negligence and wrongful death, saying it botched the investigation and allowed her killer to attend the school despite previous accusations against him.
Smart went missing from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and her body has never been found.
A classmate, Paul Flores, was the prime suspect for decades, as he was the last person to see her on the day she vanished.
“If Cal Poly had properly acted on those reports, conducted an investigation, and appropriately disciplined the student, he would not have been on campus, and therefore would not have been able to murder Kristin,” the lawsuit states. “Flores also would have been prevented from assaulting and raping countless other women, in the years after he murdered Kristin.”
Almost 25 years later, new evidence led authorities to Flores in April 2021. He was convicted of first-degree murder the following year and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
Smart’s family alleges in the lawsuit the school did not investigate her disappearance properly and continued to let Flores attend, even though other accusations of harassment had been made against him by fellow students. The suit was filed Thursday in San Luis Obispo County Superior Court.
It claims Flores had been accused of “threatening, stalking and harassing” behavior before Smart disappeared and should have been disciplined. Prosecutors had also accused Flores of being a “serial rapist” in the years that followed, CNN previously reported.
Cal Poly police didn’t pursue a missing person case properly, only taking a report four days after her disappearance despite earlier pleas from friends worried about her wellbeing, the lawsuit says. Cal Poly police also did not interview witnesses in a timely way; seal Flores’ dorm room or inspect it until 16 days after Smart disappeared, the lawsuit says.
“The bottom line is, if Cal Poly had done their job, Kristin would still be alive today,” Erin Reding, an attorney for the Smart family, told CNN. “If they had properly investigated her disappearance, (Flores) would have been arrested immediately.”
The lawsuit also alleges the university and campus police did not act quickly enough to investigate Smart’s disappearance.
“Cal Poly also breached its duty by failing to conduct a reasonable investigation into Kristin’s disappearance and into Flores himself,” the lawsuit states.
The suit says the family “did not begin to understand the multitude of failings by Cal Poly until May 2023, when Cal Poly’s president publicly apologized to the family and stated: ‘(W)e recognize that things should have been done differently – and I personally wish that they had.’”
Matt Lazier, the university’s assistant vice president for communications and media relations, declined to comment on the “pending legal matter.”
The lawsuit also alleges negligent infliction of emotional distress. It seeks unspecified monetary damages.
Reding says the family wants the university to take accountability so something like this doesn’t happen again.
“The university needs to take reports (of) threatening or harassing students more seriously, and reports of missing students more seriously,” she said. “The levels of trauma that this family (has) been through are severe, and I think they’re incredibly courageous to still be fighting for Kristin many years later.”
For more CNN news and newsletters create an account at CNN.com