Complaint claims negligence during first days of disappearance

SAN LUIS OBISPO — Nearly 28 years since the disappearance of 19-year-old Cal Poly student Kristin Smart, her family is filing a lawsuit against the university.

Kristin went missing on Memorial Day weekend in May of 1996 after attending an off-campus party. She was last seen walking back to her dorm with Paul Flores. Since her disappearance, Flores has been the center of police investigations, and in 2021, he was arrested for the murder and disappearance of Kristin alongside his father, who was accused of helping his son hide her body.

In October 2022, Flores was found guilty of Kristin’s murder, while his father, Ruben, was found not guilty of helping his son. Flores was sentenced to serve 25 years to life in prison in March 2023. To this day, the whereabouts of Kristin’s remains are unknown.


The lawsuit filed by Kristin’s parents and siblings on Thursday, Jan. 18, claims that California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo (Cal Poly) is partially responsible for her murder on the grounds of negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, and wrongful death. 

The complaint document opens with the Smarts saying the university “did not begin to understand the multitude of failings by Cal Poly until May 2023.”

In May of last year, Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong publicly apologized to the family for the first time on record, saying, “We recognize that things should have been done differently — and I personally wish that they had.”

The complaint continues to describe how Cal Poly allegedly breached its legal duty when it did “not pursue a missing person case promptly, did not interview witnesses timely, did not seal the primary suspect’s dorm room as a crime scene, allowed the suspect’s room to be sanitized and cleaned before it was searched, and did not search the suspect’s room until 16 days after Kristin disappeared.”

The document also claims that before Flores killed their daughter, multiple reports had been made about Flores’s “threatening, stalking, and harassing behavior.”

The Smart family claims in the suit that if the university had properly acted on the reports and investigated, Flores would not have been on the campus with Kristin, therefore preventing her murder.

In the years following Kristin’s disappearance, Flores left Cal Poly for various jobs throughout the state, primarily in Southern California. Several witnesses have been brought forward alleging Flores raped and assaulted them. The lawsuit also claims that if Cal Poly looked harder into Flores from the beginning, these other assaults and rapes could have been prevented.

The lawsuit further explains that these mishandlings by the university have caused the family “decades of trauma and emotional distress caused by knowing that Kristin’s murderer was still free and that her body was still hidden, and that her murderer could

hurt other women.”

The Smart family says they did not begin to put together the lawsuit against Cal Poly until after the president’s public apology which they say, “It was at this point that the Smart family began to understand Cal Poly’s failings.”

According to the lawsuit, Cal Poly still has not provided the family with the full investigation file, and that on Sept. 15, 2023, the university responded stating, “we have determined that all four claims were and have not been timely presented after the relevant event or occurrence within the time period required by law.”

The day following the off-campus party where Kristin was last seen, her friends reported her missing to the university’s campus police. However, because it was a holiday weekend, they wanted to wait until after the Memorial Day weekend was over to take their missing person report. At that time, the campus police suggested Kristin had left town or gone camping with friends. It wasn’t until four days after her disappearance that campus police began to investigate. They did not search Flores’s dorm room until 16 days after Kristin’s disappearance, despite multiple people claiming he was the last person seen with her. However, it took the university 31 days to conduct a formal investigation of his room with a crime scene investigator.

The lawsuit further details Flores’s aggressive behavior and multiple filed reports against him at the campus and following Kristin’s disappearance.

Two of those reports detailed in the lawsuit claim that in December 1995, a female Cal Poly student filed a police report stating Flores had been harrassing her and climbed the trellis of her apartment to spy on her. Again, in March 1996, more Cal Poly students filed police reports saying Flores had been stalking them, and again, Flores was found trying to break into their apartment by climbing their balcony.

While the lawsuit does not specify an amount in damages, the lawsuit says, “Cal Poly’s failures are indefensible, and it must be held accountable to prevent this cycle of callous negligence from ever occurring again.” 

Atascadero News is following this story and will provide updates as they become available.