Dead woman’s family: Suspect’s bad behavior should have landed him in jail before killing

Teresa Ryan, 46, was killed in January.
Teresa Ryan, 46, was killed in January. Photo courtesy of Linnea Sager

The family of a South Hill woman fatally shot, allegedly by her daughter’s ex-boyfriend, has filed a claim against Pierce County for $32 million.

Teresa Ryan’s family members argue that previous alleged criminal behavior against the family should have gotten Austin Nelson arrested before Ryan’s death Jan. 18.

“Domestic violence threats, felony burglary, felony child pornography, text threats, car vandalism, none of this was enough to get the sheriff to even interview him, let alone arrest him,” Sadler Ladenburg, the law firm representing Ryan’s family, said in a statement Wednesday.

Sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said Wednesday there wasn’t much time to investigate the other alleged crimes, because the family didn’t identify Nelson as a suspect until the day before the shooting.

“Pierce County deputies and detectives did an excellent investigation which led to the arrest and charges filed against the suspect,” he said in a statement.

The claim, filed Monday, is a preliminary step to filing a lawsuit. According to the claim:

Nelson, 19, started dating Ryan’s 15-year-old daughter off and on in September 2015, and Ryan tried to stop the relationship.

Nelson allegedly broke into Ryan’s home and stole guns and other items in December. Days before the shooting, after the daughter broke up with him, Nelson allegedly vandalized the daughter’s car and posted naked images of her online.

The family said they made multiple reports to the Sheriff’s Department about this behavior before 46-year-old Ryan’s death.

Deputies failed to “pursue or even question Nelson despite his escalation in criminal behavior,” the claim states.

Troyer said investigators contacted the victims multiple times, but they did not give investigators Nelson’s name until the day before the shooting.

“If you don’t tell us what you know, we cannot act on what you neglected to tell us,” Sheriff Paul Pastor said in a statement.

Nelson allegedly shot Ryan outside her house as she returned home, shot up the house and shot one of the family’s dogs.

He awaits trial on charges of first-degree murder, first-degree burglary and first-degree animal cruelty.

Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268, @amkrell