Kemper Development facing two wrongful death suits | Complaints tied to 2012 Munchbar incidents

Ja'Mari Jones is alleged to have fatally shot DeShawn Milliken at the Munchbar in downtown Bellevue on Dec. 24, 2012. He is still awaiting trial for second-degree murder.
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

Munchbar has been closed for more than a year now after a steady history of drunken violence, the last straw being the shooting death of DeShawn Milliken on Christmas Eve 2012. The 30-year-old Renton man was shot multiple times inside the packed nightclub, his sister and another patron also being struck during the shooting.

Kemper Development Company, Lincoln Square owner and Munchbar's landlord at the time, issued a news release following the arrest of alleged shooter, Ja'Mari Jones, stating the nightclub would not reopen.

"Both parties determined this would be best for the community, guests and the families involved," the statement read.

But Milliken's family alleges negligence on the part of the development company and Munchbar for not addressing a pattern of violence, underage drinking, overserving of bar patrons and inadequate security measures. The family filed suit against both parties in November, seeking compensation for emotional and physical damages, including financial loss due to Milliken's death.

This is the first of two wrongful death lawsuits that have been filed against Kemper and Munchbar in less than a year. Paula Harmes, a Pierce County woman whose son, Jacob A. Steinle, died days after a fight outside the Munchbar in 2012, also filed suit against Kemper, Munchbar and the man she alleges killed him. She also alleges the company, Munchbar and their respective security personnel demonstrated negligence in not mitigating safety issues surrounding the nightclub.

While Kemper Development hasn't filed a formal answer to Harmes' suit, it denies the allegations in the wrongful death complaint filed by Milliken's family. At one point in the company's answer to the complaint, it states "that if Plaintiffs have sustained any injuries and/or damages, then such injuries and/or damages may have been caused by the negligent conduct of Plaintiffs."

There were more than 600 patrons at Munchbar on Dec. 24, 2012, including Seattle Seahawks fans celebrating a recent team victory. DeShawn and his sister, Destiny, were allegedly standing near Jones in the club, when court documents state Milliken tackled his alleged murderer. A friend of Jones' reportedly intervened. It was at this point that Jones is alleged to have pulled out a handgun and shot DeShawn Milliken several times in the back. His family states in its lawsuit Destiny Milliken was grazed by bullets and another patron was struck during the shooting. The suit claims she watched her brother die on the nightclub floor.

Jones, who was 19 at the time of the shooting, was later apprehended in a stolen vehicle, along with his 20-year-old girlfriend, and charged with second-degree murder. He has pleaded not guilty, and his case is set for trial on Nov. 17, with an omnibus pretrial hearing set for July. Jones previously served less than a year in juvenile detention for his part in the 2008 beating death of Ed "Tuba Man" McMichael, a Seattle street musician, in 2008. Milliken's family alleges Munchbar had bouncers working the night of his death, but failed to prevent Jones — an underaged and armed man — from entering the establishment.

"Kemper Development Company allowed invitees to its property to be exposed to the jeopardy of being seriously injured or killed," states the complaint. "As the owner who had control over the premises, Kemper Development Company failed to take reasonable precautions within its control to protect the patrons of the Munchbar from the acts of third parties that were foreseeable given the incidents that preceded December 23-24,2012."

Kemper Development Company states in its March 12 answer to the complaint that it is praying for dismissal of the lawsuit and that Milliken's family pay for its attorneys fees. It also requests that "fault, if any, between the parties be apportioned as provided by applicable law."

In the nearly two years Munchbar was in operation, Bellevue Police responded to 377 calls for service at the nightclub. It was used as an example for just why the department needed a chronic nuisance ordinance passed to allow officers to declare a business or residence a nuisance and initiate a plan to resolve its issues. City Council passed the ordinance March 17, which allows the police chief to declare a business or residence a chronic nuisance if three or more defined activities occur there within 60 days or seven within a 12-month period. The chief can do the same if the property has been the subject of at least two court determinations that specified crimes have occurred there.


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