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Mother of Bend murder suspect sues DCSO over his suicide in jail

Brigitte Thomas, mother of Bryan Penner, files wrongful death suit

(Update: adding info from county's response court filing)

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Two years after a Bend man labeled the suspect in his former girlfriend's murder killed himself in the Deschutes County Jail, his mother is suing the county sheriff's office and several jail staff for what she said was a preventable death.

Bryan Penner had been publicly named as the suspect by authorities in the disappearance and slaying of ex-girlfriend Sara Gomez. 

The wrongful death lawsuit filed earlier this year in federal court by Penner's mother, Brigitte Thomas, claims jail officials failed to protect her son.

The suit claims almost three weeks before his suicide in March of 2018, Penner was caught on jail surveillance attempting to hang himself.

The lawsuit also accuses jail employees of failing to see red flags regarding Penner's past and not providing adequate mental health services or placing him in a suicide-proof cell, and that the jail did not investigate death threats that they knew he had received from other inmates. 

It also states that a previous restraining order filed by Gomez claims  Penner had attempted suicide before. 

In a 2018 interview with NewsChannel 21, the jail's Corrections Capt. Michael Schults said Penner was not on suicide watch or secluded from other inmates.

“We did keep an eye on him,” Schults said. "If somebody is in our custody that truly wants to self-harm, there's a whole bunch of different ways to do it.”

In a statement provided to NewsChannel 21 on Tuesday, the sheriff’s office public information officer, Sgt. William Bailey, said, “The Sheriff’s Office, and the individually named deputies and staff, deny all of the claims brought by Ms. Thomas and intend to vigorously defend against them.”

In its response, also filed in February, the county denied most of the allegations, but acknowledged that Thomas had told jail staff on or about Feb. 25, 2018 that her son had attempted suicide in November 2017.

"Bryan Penner was at fault for his own injuries and death," the response by county legal counsel John Laherty stated, asking the court to dismiss the claim.

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Jordan Williams

Jordan Williams is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Jordan here.



  1. I hope for two things. 1) Thomas is successful in her suit. 2) Gomez’ parents successfully sue Thomas to collect any settlement she has with the DCSO. It’s the only just outcome given Thomas’ son murdered Gomez.

    1. I do not see how a man being selfish twice, and then the taxpayers of Deschutes county having to for that, would be a good outcome. I feel horrible for both of these families, but it was this man’s poor, selfish decisions, not the taxpayers.

  2. It would be interesting to know the name of the ambulance chasing lawyer who is looking to make money from the taxpayers of Oregon on this lawsuit which does not even deserve to be filed.

  3. maybe the family failed to detect his murderous tendencies? early intervention could have kept him out of jail in the first place? The jails are not baby sitters, he opted not to face the charges,

  4. KTVZ needs to drop the word “suspect” when describing the murderer who hung himself because he was too much of a coward to admit what he did to that girl.

    1. agree, anything short of a jailer involved in hanging this homicide suspect, the suspect alone is responsible and tax payers should not on the hook.

  5. Two grieving families. This will not bring justice, but I hope it can bring closure to both families. If there was a lack of care, knowing he had mental health issues, I get why his mother is doing this. At the same time, if his known mental health was the direct cause of his actions, the family holds some accountability. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

      1. Violated Terms of Service. Translation,,, goes against ZNN21s point of view or makes ZNN21 look worse than they already do.

        1. Many people who respect and know me, regulars I might not agree with politically, have defended that I DON’T make the call based on a “point of view.” And lord knows we let people dump on US.

  6. Barney Fife allows only certain folks to make honest remarks the rest of us are denied as I made a remark about this story it was denied KTVZ needs to remove him & get a real person in there Like I said she really don’t have a leg to stand on he did what he did

  7. So his family and the ambulance chaser attorney think DCSO should pay what will certainly be
    millions of dollars for negligence because they didn’t baby sit their son. He made his own
    decision because he was a coward, and didn’t want to face the consequences as they started finding evidence linking him to the crime…

    There was nobody there to protect the poor young woman while she was being brutally murdered.
    I hope that if the family is awarded money from this lawsuit, Gomezs family will also
    file a lawsuit and be awarded everything that they receive, and that includes every dime
    that their gold digging attorney receives as well.

    1. It was offensive about a death. It’s tough judgment calls but on stories like this people always push the envelope. Of course the mother who filed the suit can expect some criticism of her actions, but … again, a judgment call I will defend.

        1. Based on you deleting my original comment that was not offensive in any way unless you are driving an agenda, I will not be using this site as my main local news any longer. It makes me question what other comments were not allowed that should have been and makes me continually skeptical when any speech is “monitored.”

          1. Sorry to hear that. I am human, and some calls are tough. But when someone dies locally, whatever the situation, the bar gets set higher. One look at Facebook comments show how awful some folks can be.

            1. Fair enough but that is exactly why we have the speech rules we do in this country. I understand this platform is different but I don’t think speech should be monitored in any way. Good luck walking that fine line. There shouldn’t be a line to begin with.

              1. Freedom of speech is rarely unlimited. (“Fire!” in a crowded theater, etc.) Privately run websites have every right to set some minimal rules. We won’t have a comment system if we have to allow people to say whatever they want, for legal reasons if nothing else. Facebook employees large groups of moderators, and yet truly awful stuff is posted there, to our and other pages. Freedom of speech can be abused more than ever now. We try to err on the side of freedom of speech, but some folks make that very difficult.

  8. What is going on with you guys at KTVZ taking everyone’s free speech away ? Everyone has Kate Brown fever. Please do not become a communist news outlet. You are not all powerful. People will quit reading

      1. Thank you for responding . All I said is if the mom has a right to sue the jail why can’t the mom of the victim sue her for her sons actions? Why was that bad?

  9. Some interesting issues can be found in this past article on this case –

    “After his release he attended one therapy session, but Thomas doesn’t think her son attended any more.” – Did the therapist from this single session write a discharge report when Penner declined to further participate in treatment? If so, what is its content? Did Ms. Thomas provide this information to the jail staff while her son was still alive?

    “On Dec. 5, Gomez wrote to Judge Stephen Forte that Penner had texted her suicide threats and that he had not been following through with mental health treatments after his suicide attempt.” – If true, what actions did the judge take to pass her information on to the jail staff? If no actions were taken on the judge’s part, why not?

    “She said she told his attorney, Matthew Baughman, on three occasions that he had attempted suicide and remained suicidal.” – As with the judge, what actions did Matthew Baughman take after Ms. Thomas informed him of her concerns? If none, why?

    Clearly, according to the Bulletin’s article, there are healthcare and legal professionals outside of the jail staff that are referred to by name, involvement, and possible culpability if there is any to be found. In addition, will Ms. Thomas’ text messages, emails, and verbal communications with her son possibly reveal a confession to her of the murder? If she was in possession of such information did she share it with her son’s attorney? The judge? Jail medical staff? The attorney could have side-stepped a confession and offered he was in possession of critical mental health information about his client that required additional protections. Did he do that? If so, with whom? If not, why not?

    Someone needs to ask these questions.

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