The family of a longtime AT&T employee who was slain on the job last year in Waco alleges in a lawsuit that company officials failed to protect him after sending him into a neighborhood the company had flagged as dangerous.

Andrea Christian and Amber Hicks, the daughters of Kenneth Cleveland; and Zella Cleveland, his mother, are seeking more than $1 million in damages in their lawsuit against AT&T as a result of Kenneth Cleveland’s violent death in April 2016.

The suit, filed this week in Dallas County, alleges gross negligence against the mammoth telecommunications corporation and charges the company is aware of a history of violence against its employees and failed to act accordingly.

“Kenny’s death was tragic and our thoughts remain with his family,” an AT&T spokesman in Dallas said Wednesday in response to the lawsuit. “The safety and welfare of our employees is of paramount concern to us. We have assisted the authorities with their investigation and have offered a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.”

Waco attorney Rick Bostwick represents Cleveland’s family.

“Our client was brutally murdered in an area of town that AT&T had red-lined as a dangerous area, yet he was not accompanied by another employee nor was he given any kind of panic device of the sort that cashiers at convenience stores have that are commonly available,” Bostwick said. “Also, nobody checked on him despite his being out there for almost four hours.”

Cleveland, 61, of Hewitt, worked for AT&T 43 years. He was sent to a work area near Barron Avenue and Novelty Street and arrived there about 8:30 a.m., the suit says.

Thirty minutes later, he reported to AT&T that he was “experiencing some sort of issue and/or altercation.”

The job was routine in nature, and Cleveland normally would have reported to an AT&T dispatcher that he was finished, the suit alleges.

“Yet, despite AT&T’s knowledge that Kenneth Cleveland was alone in a dangerous area, that he had called a dispatcher at 9 a.m. reporting that he was experiencing an issue and/or altercation at the job location and that he had not contacted a dispatcher within several hours, AT&T did not attempt to contact or communicate with Kenneth Cleveland before approximately noon that day.”

Cleveland’s burned body was found in an alley behind the house where he had been working. An autopsy showed he had been stabbed more than 20 times in the head, face and neck. He also had defensive stab wounds to the hands, “indicating he was fighting for his life before he died,” according to the lawsuit.

The autopsy said he died from homicidal violence including blunt-force injuries, sharp-force injuries and chop wounds.

No arrests have been made, and the Waco police investigation continues, Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said Thursday. Swanton declined further comment on the case.

The suit contends there is a history of violent attacks on AT&T employees working in dangerous communities.

“AT&T service technicians carry valuable equipment and tools with them to each service call, making them especially vulnerable to potential perpetrators and assailants,” the suit claims. “AT&T has internally identified dangerous areas in communities where crime rates are the highest known as ‘awareness zones’ and/or ‘red zone neighborhoods.’ AT&T maintained a practice of identifying red zone neighborhoods for a number of years prior to Kenneth Cleveland’s death.”

The suit alleges AT&T was negligent by not requiring that at least two technicians be sent together into such neighborhoods and by not having any type of “panic button” available to its employees.

The suit references the case of Kevin Mashburn, an AT&T service technician of more than 40 years who was killed on a service call in Kansas City, Missouri, in 2012.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined AT&T after Mashburn’s death, citing AT&T for “serious” violations related to workplace safety, the lawsuit alleges.

OSHA, according to the suit, concluded that AT&T “failed to ensure employees needing emergency assistance have a means of continuous communication to readily summon assistance when needed.”

The agency recommended AT&T provide panic buttons to employees.

Communications Workers of America, the labor union representing AT&T employees, has lobbied for years to force AT&T to instill better safety procedures in dangerous neighborhoods, according to the lawsuit.

“Kenneth Cleveland died a gruesome and horrific death because of AT&T’s systematic and continuous failure to provide protection for its employees in red zone neighborhoods,” the suit alleges.

Two of Cleveland’s other daughters, Elizabeth Needler and Tiffany McCollum, filed a similar lawsuit in Dallas last year against AT&T and reached a confidential settlement with the company in April.

“What happened to Kenneth Cleveland was absolutely horrific,” said Waco attorney Craig Cherry, who represented Needler and McCollum. “While I cannot discuss the terms of the agreement, it was a privilege for me to represent two of Mr. Cleveland’s daughters and help them during a traumatic time in their life.”

Staff writer at the Waco Tribune-Herald covering courts and criminal justice. Follow me on Twitter @TSpoonFeed.

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