PHOTO CREDIT: Gord Waldner, The StarPhoenix
The man at the centre of a high-profile malicious prosecution lawsuit has settled his claim against a Saskatoon city police officer.
At a press conference at his new west-side home on Friday afternoon, Richard Klassen told reporters that a "conclusion" has been reached with Supt. Brian Dueck.
"I can't discuss a settlement amount, but certainly it has been concluded satisfactorily to myself," said Klassen, who refused to disclose a dollar figure.
Although Klassen repeatedly said details of the settlement agreement are to remain confidential, he noted it "represents closure."
"As everyone knows, I'm self-represented. I've been working on this case for a long period of time," he said.
"I took it upon myself to see if I can conclude matters, and I think that defendant Dueck and counsel would like to see it end."
Klassen said he will immediately file documentation with the Court of Queen's Bench, stating all action between himself and Dueck has been "concluded."
"It's over for him and I, and it's done," Klassen said in an interview.
"I want him out of my mind."
Klassen said working on the settlement agreement was difficult for him, since he had to keep details from his wife, Kari, another plaintiff.
Kari Klassen told reporters that she only learned of the out-of-court settlement during Friday's media conference.
"I didn't know until now. I can't believe it. I'm so happy for him," she said, her voice breaking with emotion.
"I'm very proud of him, extremely proud. Everything that he has done, all the decisions he has made for this case, have worked out extremely well for everybody — and they will continue to."
Richard Klassen's sister, Pamela Shetterly, said she had no idea her brother was going to settle his claim.
"I'm surprised," Shetterly said from her home in Outlook. "What are my feelings? I don't know. We all harbour different feelings toward what Dueck did."
Earlier this year, police Chief Russell Sabo apologized to the Klassen family and announced he hired a law firm to investigate the role Dueck played in their malicious prosecution.
"I have faith in the chief of police," Klassen told reporters.
Dueck is on medical leave. His lawyer could not be reached for comment Friday.
However, police spokesperson Insp. Lorne Constantinoff said the department is "happy" that an agreement has been reached.
"It's a good indication. It's a sign of moving forward."
Mayor Don Atchison also said he's pleased the two sides have come to a conclusion, but pointed out the city didn't participate in the negotiations.
"It was between Mr. Klassen, Supt. Dueck, his lawyer and the insurer," he said.
Atchison, who chairs the police commission, said the city is not on the hook for any more than a $50,000 insurance deductible, which has already been paid.
In late December, Court of Queen's Bench Justice George Baynton ruled that three officials — Brian Dueck, child therapist Carol Bunko-Ruys and Crown prosecutor Matthew Miazga — maliciously prosecuted Klassen and 11 other plaintiffs.
In 1991, Klassen and his family members were wrongly accused of sexually abusing three foster children.
The charges were eventually stayed against them, and they sued for malicious prosecution. Their lawsuit sought damages of more than $10 million.
A trial to determine damages is set for Sept. 13, although an agreement could be reached during a pre-trial settlement conference in June.
The provincial government has appealed Baynton's ruling, as has Dueck. Dueck on Friday abandoned his appeal pertaining to Klassen.
Klassen has not reached settlements with either Miazga or Bunko-Ruys.
Lawyer Robert Borden, who represents the other plaintiffs, said he hasn't been given "the particulars" of Klassen's settlement. He said none of the other 11 plaintiffs have sought out-of-court settlements.
Borden also said Richard Klassen's settlement doesn't affect his clients.
"We're very happy for Mr. Klassen that he's resolved that one issue, but certainly it has no impact on the amount of damages which the other plaintiffs will receive," he said.
For years, Klassen has worked to clear his family's name. Along the way, he has also dealt with other challenges, such as a recent prostate cancer diagnosis and an addiction to sleeping pills and other medication.
Filming will begin in a year on a two-hour, made-for-TV movie about his struggle for justice. But for now, Klassen plans to focus on "health issues," which he says he's "going to try and keep private.
"I do have a new physician, and I'm going to work on some health issues," he said Friday.
"So closure for me, as far as Dueck is concerned, it really does help."
Sitting before a roomful of police officers and commissioners, Richard Klassen wanted to apologize.
The man whom a Court of Queen's Bench justice ruled had been maliciously prosecuted a decade ago, along with 11 extended family members, told the force it was his turn to say he's sorry.
"I've been guilty of painting the police department with the wrong brush," he said Thursday. "I think the police department has started to come about."
Klassen's newfound sympathy for the police service stems, he said, from his recent purchase of a home in Saskatoon. Two assaults on a family member in the last seven months and the city's high-crime reputation have alarmed him, however, to the point that he's installed security cameras around his house.
"I suggest we all chip in," he said of curbing crime. "We're not going to be able to live here (otherwise). It's a dangerous place to live.
"I've come to realize (police) are here to help."
Police commissioner Eleanor Shia told Klassen that officers will appreciate his sentiment.
"There's always one or two bad apples," she said. "The others do their job. Thank-you for acknowledging it."
Klassen and family members were charged, tried and acquitted of sexual abuse against three foster children in the early 1990s. Years later, the children admitted they had invented the stories.
Last December, Justice George Baynton ruled that prosecutor Matthew Miazga, Saskatoon police Supt. Brian Dueck and therapist Carol Bunko-Ruys had been malicious in their prosecution of the case.
The government has filed an appeal of the malicious prosecution finding.
After spending the last 14 years battling wrongful accusations of sexual abuse in what was known as the "scandal of the century," Richard Klassen wants to bring his quest for justice to Winnipeg.
"Going to Winnipeg will be a fresh start," said Klassen from Alberta, where he is currently travelling.
Klassen's ordeal began in Saskatchewan in 1991, when he and 11 other family members were accused by foster children of bizarre, ritualistic abuse.
The children later recanted, and Klassen and his family sued for malicious prosecution, a case they won on December 30 last year.
Klassen said he was drawn to Winnipeg because of James Driskell (left) who was released on bail last fall after stories by Free Press reporter Dan Lett detailed doubts about his murder conviction. Driskell, who spent 12 years in prison, is now awaiting a new trial.
"I have a passion for injustices, and clearly I think the Driskell case is an injustice I'd like to look into," said Klassen.
Klassen isn't sure when he'll be financially ready to move to Winnipeg. The province of Saskatchewan has appealed the $10-million lawsuit, and in the meantime, Klassen and his family got a $1.5-million interim payment.
"There's 12 plaintiffs, so we didn't receive anywhere near what I would call justice," he said.
Klassen is also trying to overcome an addiction to sleeping pills he developed over the past few years, a struggle he says has been difficult.
"I'm working with addictions counsellors and doctors and I'm slowly trying to go off," he said. "It's not an easy thing to do, when you've been abusing them."
For the time being, Klassen will remain in the province where the trial began.
"I bought a house now in Saskatchewan, and it's temporary. I intend to sell it," he said. "I'm kind of stuck here until the damages trial in September."
After he moves to Winnipeg, Klassen said he'd like to continue his work with Injusticebusters.com, a website he created in 1998 with friend Sheila Steele that currently publishes information about injustices across Canada.
In the meantime, Klassen's story is being made into a TV movie by Toronto-based Platt Productions. He hopes people who watch it learn something about wrongful convictions.
Filming will begin in one year on a two-hour, made-for-TV movie about Richard Klassen and his struggle for justice after being wrongly accused of child sexual abuse.
The road ahead may also include a TV biography of Klassen and a full-length motion picture. The contract he inked with Platt Productions of Toronto Thursday gives the company the right to produce the latter projects as well.
"It's a major story — not just about the fact that we won but how we won. There's a lot of the human aspect to this story," Klassen said Sunday. "It's an exciting development."
Klassen and 11 other relatives were charged in 1991 with sexually abusing three foster children in a case known at the time as the Scandal of the Century.
Much of the filming is expected to take place in Saskatoon, he said. But once it is complete, Klassen plans to say goodbye to the city.
He is moving to Winnipeg to start his life over.
"I can't even begin to tell you what I've been going through in the last week," he said, noting his attempts to kick a pill addiction that developed from the stress of his court battles.
He's also been approached by people in bars and restaurants and although he's grateful for the supportive comments, he wants to leave his experience behind.
"I can't stand recognition but I've got to get used to it, I guess, especially with a movie coming out," he said.
He won't give up his determination to see justice, however. In Winnipeg he plans to work on behalf of those wrongly jailed — in particular, James Driskell. He was released on bail in Winnipeg on Nov. 28 after his wrongful 1991 murder conviction.
"Round 2," Klassen said.
Before signing with Platt, he had considered offers from studios in British Columbia, Alberta and two in Regina. He chose Platt because the founder and president, Phyllis Platt, is a former executive director of television arts and entertainment for CBC Television and asked fellow CBC staff member Harvey Cashore to be part of the project.
Cashore was with CBC's The Fifth Estate in 2000 and worked on getting Klassen's story aired. He's someone in whom Klassen has full trust.
"They're not going to rush this thing and I think that's good. I didn't want some rush story out there that's going to flop," he said. "I just want to get the story out there and as accurate as possible. I don't want an over-dramatization. I want a hard-hitting truthful story to come out for the Saskatoon people. There's got to be a learning experience from watching this thing."
He's interested in knowing which actor will portray him in the movie but doesn't plan to ever watch it.
"Just like The Fifth Estate, I don't watch that either," he said.
Klassen will earn $1,500 for handing over the rights to his story and another $20,000 when shooting begins.
"It's not big money. Certainly, I'm not getting rich off this. It's just to tell the story," he said. "I could have made more with some of the other offers, some of which were much more generous, but I wanted to go with the company and people I trust."
Cashore plans to take a year's leave from CBC's Disclosure, on which he now works. But he is still finalizing that arrangement and deferred comment until that deal was done.
Platt's company has developed and premiered dozens of well-known Canadian programs like The Newsroom and DaVinci's Inquest. It also made the TV movie, Open Heart, about underfunded health care.
Klassen was a house painter with a Grade 7 education when, in July 1991, the RCMP arrested him and his wife for the sexual assault of three children they barely knew.
Ten relatives were also arrested and branded as child abusers. Their lives changed forever.
Eventually, the charges were stayed against all of them and they later sued for malicious prosecution. In their arguments, the plaintiffs alleged officials knew there was no case against them but proceeded anyway.
They won the lawsuit in late December.
Although the government has appealed the case, the province gave the plaintiffs an interim payment of $1.5 million in January.