The Tulalip Resort Casino. (Sue Misao / Herald file)

The Tulalip Resort Casino. (Sue Misao / Herald file)

Murder charges dismissed for boyfriend in Tulalip casino death

Meanwhile, Hana Letoi’s family is suing the casino and security staff, alleging their actions could have saved her life.

TULALIP — Criminal charges have been dismissed for a Pierce County man accused of killing his girlfriend at Tulalip Resort Casino in October 2020.

Nomeneta Tauave had been charged in Snohomish County Superior Court with second-degree murder in Hana Letoi’s death. But in a rare move, prosecutors dismissed the case Thursday after Tauave’s defense attorney argued there wasn’t enough evidence to show his actions resulted in Letoi’s death.

“At this time there is insufficient evidence to prove the charged offenses beyond a reasonable doubt,” deputy prosecutor Toni Montgomery wrote in court papers.

Prosecutor Adam Cornell told The Daily Herald, “We were left with no other choice.”

“I am certain that it is heartbreaking for the victim’s family to have heard of our decision, and my heart goes out to them, but we have an ethical obligation to not proceed in the prosecution of cases that we don’t believe we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt,” Cornell said.

“This was not something that we wanted to do,” he said.

Tauave’s trial was set for later this month. He had been in the Snohomish County Jail since Oct. 26, 2020, on $1 million bail. He was released Thursday night, according to jail records.

And “at this point, there don’t appear to be any other viable felony charges” in connection with Letoi’s death, Cornell said.

Still, Letoi’s family believes casino employees were negligent that night. The family is suing security staff, alleging they didn’t step in as Tauave was being abusive.

The allegations

Letoi, 35, and Tauave, then 33, had reportedly been dating for a few years. They got to Tulalip around 6 p.m. the night of Oct. 23, 2020.

After getting drunk, Tauave got violent with Letoi inside the casino, prosecutors previously alleged. He grabbed her neck while they argued, surveillance video showed.

Security guards saw the argument and reported it to higher-ups, but no one asked him to leave, the lawsuit alleges.

As they left, Tauave yelled for Letoi to come with him to their car, according to court papers. A security guard told her she didn’t have to go with him, but she did.

About two minutes after they got in the silver GMC Yukon, a security officer reportedly saw Tauave grab Letoi by the neck and shake her.

Tauave saw the security staffer and started driving. Security footage reportedly showed the door open as the Yukon was moving and Letoi’s legs “dangling/kicking” out, according to the charges.

Somehow, Letoi fell out of the vehicle. Witnesses reported she was “violently removed” from the car, the now-dropped charges say.

Tauave reportedly drove away.

Public defender Jennifer Bartlett noted in court documents that Tauave did not force Letoi into the car. And it was unclear if she was pushed from the vehicle or got out on her own while it was moving.

In a police interview, Tauave denied assaulting Letoi and said he wanted her to stay in the car. He reported he turned around and came back to the parking lot, according to court papers.

He said he saw her talking to casino security. She seemed fine, he told police. He claimed she “jumped into the ambulance.” Since she appeared OK, he went back to their hotel.

Letoi reportedly lost consciousness at about 8 p.m. She was taken to the hospital. She died two days later.

The Snohomish County medical examiner determined she died of cardiac arrest from emotional distress following a physical altercation.

Toxicology results showed she had some methamphetamine — 70 nanograms per milliliter — in her system at the time of her death, according to court records. She also had heart disease. Prosecutors wrote in the 2020 charges that, in combination, those two factors “put her at a high risk of sudden cardiac events triggered by severe emotional stress.”

At the time, prosecutors argued Tauave’s assault and the onset of her heart issues happened at the same time.

A family member told police Tauave had shot Letoi in 2018, but the incident didn’t result in criminal charges because she didn’t cooperate with prosecutors.

‘Clear and obvious’ failure

In late January, the family filed a civil lawsuit in Snohomish County Superior Court, naming 10 security staffers and supervisors. It alleges they either failed to aid Letoi or failed to properly train their subordinates.

“The security at the casino was extremely lacking,” said the family’s lawyer, Ryan Dreveskracht. “From our perspective, there’s just a clear and obvious patent failure to provide supervision to the security guards.”

He said the staff that night was “severely undertrained.” For example, only after she was no longer in the car did security call police, the complaint says.

In a similar lawsuit filed in Tulalip Tribal Court last year, the Tulalip Tribes and the casino were named as defendants. That complaint argues the casino “owed Ms. Letoi a duty to supervise and train” security officers.

The casino declined to comment as the litigation is pending.

Dreveskracht said security there has been lacking for years.

A 46-year-old woman sued the Tribes and the casino after she was assaulted on New Year’s Eve 2020. The lawsuit alleges security did little to protect her. The woman said she had to report the incident to police herself a few days later.

A couple years earlier, another woman sued claiming a security officer sexually assaulted her while she was intoxicated. That employee, Travis Sanderson, was charged with indecent liberties with a person incapable of consent. The criminal case remains ongoing. The lawsuit was settled out of court.

Letoi had three children.

“At the end of the day, this is a young woman who was loved,” said Dreveskracht, the lawyer. “She was taken, tragically, way too young.”

Jake Goldstein-Street: 425-339-3439; Twitter: @GoldsteinStreet.

Need help?

If you or someone you know needs a safe place to talk because of domestic abuse, you can call Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County at 425-25-ABUSE (425-252-2873). The line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Call takers are there to help, not to tell you what to do.

You can also reach out to the Providence Intervention Center for Assault and Abuse: 425-252-4800.

If you are worried about being heard on the phone, you can text 911.

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