The estate representing the family of Blair County Corrections Officer Rhonda Russell has filed a wrongful death lawsuit, on their behalf, against Blair County and several officials, including the estate of the officer who pulled the trigger in the fatal shooting.
Officer Russell was shot and killed last November by an Altoona police officer during a struggle inside Blair County Central Court after an inmate had taken her hostage in an attempt to escape.
Last month, Blair County District Attorney Pete Weeks ruled that the officer, identified as Sgt. George Bistline, was justified in his actions after authorities say he “feared for his safety.”
In the lawsuit, Officer Russell’s estate alleges that prison officials, as well as the county as a whole, failed to properly protect Officer Russell from any harm.
The lawsuit states that the man charged in Officer Russell’s death, 55-year-old Christopher Aikens, had a “lengthy” criminal history prior to the events last November and was “aware that he could spend most of the remainder of his life in prison.”
Authorities noted during the investigation that Aikens had allegedly attempted to escape from prison, on multiple occasions, but, according to the lawsuit, those incidents were not made known to law enforcement officials, including Officer Russell.
The lawsuit also claims that Blair County Central Court “failed to provide adequate security,” as Officer Russell was tasked with guarding five inmates at one time.
Lastly, the lawsuit alleges that Sgt. Bistline also failed in his duties, claiming that he did not request backup during the struggle and that he entered the holding cell, where Aikens had taken Officer Russell hostage, and “immediately fired his weapon.”
Officer Russell’s estate claims that, according to Aikens, he (Aikens) did not point Officer Russell’s weapon at Sgt. Bistline when he re-entered the holding cell but that Sgt. Bistline fired anyway, striking and killing Officer Russell.
Officer Russell’s estate is seeking an undisclosed amount of damages from the county, prison officials, and Sgt. Bistline’s estate, and is requesting a jury trial in the case.