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'Shocking breach of faith' | Spectrum owes $7 billion in punitive damages for murder of Texas customer

Earlier in June, a jury also said the cable company had to pay 90% of $375 million in compensatory damages to Thomas and her family.

DALLAS — A Dallas County jury found Charter Communications, which also operates as Spectrum, acted negligently in hiring a field technician who killed one of its customers. The company now owes billions of dollars in damages.

The jury awarded $7 billion in punitive damages against Charter for "systemic safety failures" in connection to the 2019 murder of 83-year-old Betty Thomas by one of the technicians. Earlier in June, a jury also said Charter had to pay 90% of $375 million in compensatory damages to Thomas' family. 

During this June verdict, the jury found Charter liable for the robbery and stabbing death of Thomas by a company employee. In December 2019, officers arrested 43-year-old Roy Holden Jr., and he later pleaded guilty to murder and was sentenced to life in prison in April 2021.

Dallas-based Hamilton Wingo represented the family in this case.

“This was a shocking breach of faith by a company that sends workers inside millions of homes every year,” Hamilton Wingo trial lawyer Chris Hamilton said. “The jury in this case was thoughtful and attentive to the evidence. This verdict justly reflects the extensive evidence regarding the nature of the harm caused by Charter Spectrum’s gross negligence and reckless misconduct. For the safety of the American public, we can only hope that Charter Spectrum and its shareholders are listening.”

The complaint against Charter from the victim's family said the cable company got rid of an employee screening program that Time Warner Cable had in place when Charter bought the multiple-system operator in 2016. Spectrum allegedly hired Holden without verifying his employment history, which would have shown he lied about his work history.

A review of Holden's previous employers would have revealed firings for forgery, falsifying documents and harassment of fellow employees, according to trial testimony.

Holden was the Spectrum field technician who visited Thomas' house back in December 2019 to help with her phone line. He went back to her place the next day using a Spectrum van and stabbed her with a utility knife supplied by the cable company.

Authorities discovered Thomas' body after responding to an unconscious person call. According to detectives, Thomas had multiple stab wounds and was dead when officers arrived.

Holden took her credit cards and went on a "spending spree," attorneys said in June. They also said Thomas' death could have been prevented and Spectrum had "systemic failures" in its hiring practice.

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In the days leading up to Thomas' murder, Holden allegedly made multiple outcries to supervisors about significant personal and financial issues having to do with a divorce that left him no money or a place to stay, according to trial testimony. He also allegedly broke down crying in a meeting telling his supervisor he was not OK. 

Immediately after being denied money, the evidence showed he began scamming elderly female Spectrum cable customers by stealing their credit cards and checks, testimony revealed.

Holden allegedly had complete unauthorized access to his Spectrum vehicle, and in the weeks preceding the murder, had likely been sleeping in the van. 

According to testimony, Spectrum ignored requests by police and prosecutors to preserve evidence. One Spectrum security executive testified the company was “not necessarily” obligated to tell the truth or cooperate with police.

After Thomas' family filed the lawsuit, Hamilton Wingo said Spectrum attorneys used a forged document to try and force the lawsuit into a closed-door arbitration, where the results would have been secret and damages for the murder would have been limited to the amount of Thomas’ final bill. 

The jury found that Spectrum committed forgery beyond a reasonable doubt, which is conduct that constitutes a first-degree felony under Texas law, according to Hamilton Wingo. 

Attorneys said Thomas' family later received a bill from Spectrum that included a $58 charge for the murderer’s service call and continued to receive bills for service weeks after Thomas died.

During the trial, it was also revealed there had been more than 2,500 thefts by Spectrum employees against customers in the past several years, which the company refused to investigate or report to police.

“Charter Spectrum had too many chances to prevent this tragedy, and the company showed a complete disregard for the safety of its customers. Worse, the trial reveals how vulnerable Charter Spectrum customers remain today at the hands of a company that appears not to care about public safety,” Hamilton Wingo trial lawyer Ray Khirallah said. “This verdict fairly reflects the extent of the evidence against Charter Spectrum and the dangerous nature of the company’s serious misconduct and violations of the law.”

   

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