The falsely accused and wrongfully convicted in Wenatchee have been hanging in there and now the government is finally having to pay millions for allowing child sexual abuse hysteria and false allegations thereof to run rampant.
Would it not have been wiser to run a refresher course for members of the judiciary and law enforcement on how memory works, on testimonial evidence and on proper interrogation techniques? The science was there at the time.
-- Adriaan J. W. Mak
The legal fallout continues.
Nearly a decade after police and state social workers targeted alleged child sex rings in the Wenatchee area, the civil battles rage on in state, federal and appellate courts from Spokane to San Francisco, and they're likely to drag on for years to come, attorneys involved in the cases say.
More than three dozen lawsuits have been filed, the most recent two months ago, with many listing multiple defendants. Of those, 18 are still pending. Most of the suits allege civil rights violations and negligence on the part of government agencies and others.
Those who have sued include people convicted and then exonerated of crimes, children who say they were coerced into making false accusations and yanked out of homes, and state caseworkers who said they were retaliated against for raising red flags about what was taking place.
To date, the city of Wenatchee, the state, and Chelan and Douglas counties have either agreed to or been ordered to pay plaintiffs at least $10 million. This year, at least $1.21 million has been paid to settle lawsuits.
Though settlements have been reached, about two dozen people are still seeking damages from the government agencies, public defenders and other entities and individuals.
Attorneys expect more suits as children who were interrogated and removed from their parents during the probe file their own claims. At least 14 children have already sued.
Yet other than higher insurance premiums, the suits haven't had a major impact on the finances of the city, counties or state, officials say.
Twenty-two lawsuits have been filed against the city of Wenatchee, more than any other jurisdiction. City police handled most of the criminal cases in 1994-95. The city has settled nine suits for $1.91 million, but no jury has ordered it to pay damages.
Patrick McMahon, the Wenatchee attorney who has represented the city in the suits since 1996, said the city has been successful in getting suits dismissed due to expired statute of limitations. He said federal courts also have found that the city had no policy or custom of violating people's civil rights, and that the city had adequately trained its detectives to handle sex-abuse cases.
McMahon and Chelan County Prosecutor Gary Riesen said the settlements, many of them in the six figures, have not been admissions of guilt, but rather business decisions based on risk and the cost of litigation.
"They haven't lost anything yet," said McMahon, who was hired to represent the city by its insurer, the Association of Washington Cities.
Attorneys for plaintiffs concede things haven't gone as well as they originally hoped. But they say the biggest victory was getting people released from prison.
"I think it's safe to say that every one of these people would have traded any civil judgment for their liberty," said Suzanne Lee Elliott, a Seattle lawyer representing Doris Green, who was released from prison in 1999 after her conviction was overturned.
Auburn attorney Tyler Firkins, who is handling some of the suits, echoed those sentiments.
"The public perception across the nation has basically cemented to the concept that what happened in Wenatchee was a witch hunt and an abuse of power," he said.
In the civil cases, Firkins said, plaintiffs have faced a high burden of proof and difficulty in getting the full story about out-of-control police, prosecutors and public defenders into court. That's because of immunity given to governments and their employees, he said.
"You never end up talking about the injustice," he said.
Leap in premiums
Despite having not lost a case at trial, the city of Wenatchee's liability insurance premiums have risen from just under $200,000 in 1994 when the investigations began to nearly $700,000 this year. City Finance Director Mark Calhoun said he doesn't know how much of the increase is due to the sex-abuse cases, but added that there's no doubt it has had an impact.
Chelan County and Douglas County have seen their insurance premiums increase as well, but not at the rate of Wenatchee's.
So far the city's insurer has covered all defense costs and the bulk of the city settlements, Calhoun said.
The city has had to pay, however, a $25,000 deductible on every settlement, Wenatchee Mayor Dennis Johnson said. That totals $225,000.
Johnson said the city hasn't had to raise taxes or cut programs due to the litigation. He said the city sets aside money each year for deductibles, and that has been enough.
But if a multi-million dollar judgment were to be levied against the city, taxpayers could end up feeling it in their pocketbooks, Johnson said.
The city's coverage was capped at $1 million per occurrence for claims arising in 1994 and $2 million in 1995. That means the city would have to pay for any judgments and legal expenses that exceed the covered amount.
The city's 2003 operating budget is about $15 million, and the city doesn't have a contingency fund to cover any major judgments not covered by its insurer, Calhoun said.
"I believe the city, through its insurance carrier, has fared extremely well," the mayor said.
Just last month the city prevailed in a suit accusing former Wenatchee police Detective Bob Perez of fabricating evidence that led to the conviction and imprisonment of Manuel Hidalgo Rodriguez on a child-molestation charge. Hidalgo spent nearly five years in prison before the state Court of Appeals reversed his conviction and he was released. But after hearing testimony, a Spokane federal jury rejected his civil rights claim.
But like so many other victories in these cases - by both sides - the win was put on hold. Hidalgo has filed an appeal. Government agencies have taken the same route in other cases.
So far, the biggest blow to the city has come from now retired Spokane County Superior Court Judge Michael Donohue, who in January ruled that the city had failed to turn over all of Perez's personnel file, including damaging information about the former detective's mental state, to attorneys representing the Rev. Robert "Roby" Roberson and others. The judge ordered a new trial in their case and fined the city more than $718,000. The city is appealing.
Douglas County filed another appeal in 2001 after a Spokane County jury ordered it to pay $3 million to Honnah and Jon Sims, two former members of Roberson's East Wenatchee Pentecostal church. The county has said it doesn't have the money, and it's unclear whether the judgment would be fully covered by the county's liability insurance should it stand. County Auditor Thad Duvall said he doesn't know if the county is covered. Prosecutor Steve Clem declined comment.
Settlements, not judgments
The only other large judgment to be levied against a government agency occurred in 1998 when a Chelan County jury ordered the state to pay Juana Vasquez $1.57 million. It found that Vasquez, a former social worker who is now deceased, had been fired from her state job because she was critical of the child sex-abuse investigations.
The state Department of Social and Health Services, which has settled seven of the 17 other suits against it, is self-insured and pays judgments and settlements from a state fund.
Chelan County, meanwhile, has settled all but one of the nine suits filed against it to date. Its insurer, the Washington Association of Counties Risk Pool, has agreed to pay more than $1.68 million to settle the cases.
Roberson received the largest settlement from the county. In exchange for dropping his suit, the risk pool paid him a lump sum of $320,000. And it has agreed to pay him an additional $2,143.22 a month for life. Roberson, his wife, Connie, and daughter, Rebekah, have received an additional $664,333 in settlements and fines.
The Association of Washington Cities has yet to disclose the amount it has spent defending the city.
The state, however, estimates that it has spent about $1.3 million defending itself, and Chelan County's insurer has spent more than $400,000. Clem said he did not know how much the Hartford insurance company had spent defending Douglas County. But according to previous reports, it had already spent about $300,000 through 1998.
Next round: Children
How much more the sex-abuse cases will cost government agencies and their insurers is anybody's guess.
The statute of limitations for filing suits has either expired or is about to expire for adults. But the minors taken away from their parents or interrogated by police during the investigations have until they turn 21 to file suit.
Elliott said the children are the potential plaintiffs the city and other agencies should worry about.
"The next wave of litigation is the kids," she said.
It'll likely be another five or six years before the current round of litigation plays out, Firkins estimates. That doesn't include the children who may file suits in the future.
"What happened to Hidalgo and these other people is wrong, and somebody has to stand up for people who can't stand up for themselves," he said. "Our firm will not stop until we get justice, or until we have virtually no more options."
WENATCHEE - Overcome by anger after being accused of child rape, Bob Devereaux sought vengeance through the same legal system that had been used against him.
"The minute charges were dismissed I knew I was going to sue because I was angry," said Devereaux, one of 43 people arrested during the 1994-95 Wenatchee child sex-abuse investigations. "It wasn't for the money. I wanted to show them they were wrong. I wanted them to accept some responsibility for what had happened."
Devereaux, a former California insurance executive, said he's since made peace with what happened to him. He said he felt some vindication when he settled his lawsuit with the city in 1999 for $290,000 and with the state last year for $80,000.
But the money he walked away with wasn't enough to replace what he lost in the ordeal, said Devereaux, who is now 66.
He was arrested after being accused of raping two foster daughters in 1994, but the girls recanted. Then in 1995 he was charged with having sex with three other foster daughters. Prosecutors dropped the charges later that same year in exchange for Devereaux pleading guilty to spanking a child and rendering criminal assistance, both misdemeanors. Devereaux said he doesn't give much thought to what his life would have been like today if he had not been accused of the abuse. But there's no doubt that he's a different man, he said.
The old Bob Devereaux enjoyed being around children, had never been arrested and had complete faith in the criminal justice system, he said. The new Bob Devereaux mostly avoids kids and says he couldn't be a juror in a criminal case because he wouldn't believe police or the prosecutor.
"And there's still this fear in my mind that I'll be arrested," he said, explaining that he no longer trusts law enforcement.
Some of the children who made accusations against Devereaux reportedly told police that frequent orgies took place at his foster home with as many as 20 adults showing up wearing sunglasses and dressed in robes.
As a result of the allegations, Devereaux was forced to give up foster parenting and to hire a criminal attorney. Unable to make his mortgage payments and in need of money to cover his mounting legal bills, he sold his 3,000-square-foot Wenatchee house. He said the accusations hovering over him kept buyers away, and he had no choice but to sell the Ramona Avenue house for less than what it was worth.
After the criminal charges went away, Devereaux was left to pick up the pieces of his life.
"I would lie awake at night just thinking about what had happened to me," he said.
He moved into a small rental house in Rock Island and went to work at a convenience store there. He worked as a clerk at the store until about two months ago.
Though he received $370,000 in settlements, more than a third of the money went to the Lacy & Kane law firm that handled his lawsuit, he said. Attorney Steve Lacy, the current East Wenatchee mayor, represented Devereaux in the litigation. Devereaux said the federal government took another big chunk in taxes, and then there were debts to be paid.
After getting his first settlement check he repaid personal loans made to him when he was broke, Devereaux said. He then bought a Honda Accord and took what was left and invested it in the stock market.
Devereaux said his finances are finally back on track. He eventually bought a house in East Wenatchee, which he rents out.
Today, Devereaux lives in a one-bedroom 800-square-foot house in Sunnyslope, north of Wenatchee, that he rents from a former foster daughter, who stood behind him throughout the ordeal.
He spends his days closely watching the stock market and trading stocks on his computer, he said. Although he considered moving away from Wenatchee after being cleared, he said he decided to stay because he has family here.
Devereaux said that when the allegations were first made, he would get glares from people. People still recognize him, he said, but since the "real story" came out, the glares have gone away.
"I didn't spend any time in prison. I don't know any of these people who went to prison, but I'm hoping they get multimillion dollar awards," Devereaux said of others caught up in the sex-abuse cases who have sued. "They deserve it."
In 1995 I wrote the first of my 28 columns about the Wenatchee, Washington, child sex abuse witch hunt. Before national attention brought a halt to the worst witch hunt in U.S. history, 43 adults were falsely arrested on 29,726 fabricated charges of child sex abuse involving 60 children.
Parents, Sunday school teachers and a local pastor were indicted and many were convicted of raping their own children and the children of other members of a sex-ring. Innocent people were railroaded into prison, and their children were sold into foster care.
The witch hunt, which devastated so many lives at taxpayers' expense, was launched in 1994 when a Child Protective Services supervisor told the local Wenatchee office to find some cases to justify its budget.
A stench of evil hung about these cases. Not a scrap of physical evidence of sex abuse was ever presented, an extraordinary fact considering that the children, some mere infants, had allegedly suffered an average of 495 rapes. One woman was charged with 3,200 counts of child sex abuse, which I wrote at the time gave "nymphomania a new definition."
The cases were trumped up by Child Protective Services officials with an eye on their budget and jobs and by a police detective, Bob Perez, with the complicity of local prosecutors, judges, and political and media establishments. My early columns were greeted with derision by the local radio station, KPQ, and newspaper, the Wenatchee World.
The few witnesses in the cases, a single mother and two young girls, later recanted in sworn court documents and before TV audiences. The young girls described how they were threatened and beaten, with one apparently suffering a broken arm, by Perez, who used acts of violence to coerce false accusations.
One young woman described how she was kidnapped by Perez and locked up in a psychiatric facility, where a "recovered memory" therapist gave her mind-altering drugs in an attempt to get her to make false accusations against her parents. The state ACLU later verified her account.
In January 1997, single parent Michelle Kimble gave sworn court testimony that Child Protective Services officials Kate Carrow and Tim Abbey and detective Perez coerced her on Dec. 17, 1996, into making false charges against Pastor Roby Roberson, who had spoken out against the witch hunt. Shortly thereafter she repeated on NBC-TV that she was intimidated into making false allegations by fear of being criminally charged herself and having her son seized by Child Protective Services. CPS caseworker Paul Glassen told how he was forced to flee to Canada with his family when he was put on Perez's arrest list for refusing to go along with the false accusations.
Despite these extraordinary revelations, Wenatchee stood behind the false convictions.
Tom Grant, a local KREM 2 News TV reporter in Spokane repeatedly exposed the frame-ups. Finally, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer assigned two investigative reporters to the story. In 1998 its series, "the Power to Harm," documented the extraordinary violations of law, procedures, civil rights and basic humanity by public officials.
Spurred by the revelations of lawlessness in the system of criminal justice, the University of Washington Law School formed the Innocence Project Northwest, which has succeeded in obtaining the release of every adult victim of the false prosecutions. But spiteful public officials still refuse to give the parents back their children.
None of the public officials who broke the law, tampered with witnesses and fabricated evidence in order to convict the innocent have been indicted. However, civil cases have found the city of Wenatchee and Douglas County negligent in the child sex abuse cases, and multi-million dollar judgments have been awarded. The state Department of Social and Health Services and Chelan County have settled other civil cases with large awards.
Last week Spokane County Superior Court Judge Michael Donohue reinstated Pastor Roberson's civil lawsuit against Wenatchee. Judge Donohue ruled that Wenatchee's defense lawyers had withheld documents and "blindsided and misled the plaintiffs" and the court itself. Robert Van Siclen, the attorney who successfully defended Pastor Roberson from false child sex abuse charges, said: "These are smoking gun documents."
The Wenatchee witch hunt gained its opportunity from a liberal mantra that 3 out of 4 children are subjected to sex abuse by a parent, close relative or child care provider. This mantra spawned federal legislation, Child Protective Services (an unaccountable agency with broad powers), an industry of child advocates and therapists with financial incentives to find sex abuse in Johnny's football bruises, and special prosecutorial units that need cases.
These mechanisms for the miscarriage of justice are in place in every city and town in the U.S.
As early as October 3, 1995, Washington Governor Mike Lowry requested U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno to send a U.S. Attorney to investigate the Wenatchee child abuse prosecutions. Miss Reno, whose own claim to fame resided in false child sex abuse prosecutions (now all overturned) and who was kept on a short leash by Hillary "it takes a village" Clinton, steadfastly refused Gov. Lowry's requests.
Liberals do not doubt that public officials can be trusted with power, but liberals know that parents cannot be trusted with children.
This misplaced confidence is responsible for the miscarriage of justice in Wenatchee.
Will your community be next?
Paul Craig Roberts is the author with Lawrence M. Stratton of The Tyranny of Good Intentions : How Prosecutors and Bureaucrats Are Trampling the Constitution in the Name of Justice.