Foster abuse case settled: $11 million for 8 boys

The Seattle Times

June 10, 2008

In the summer of 2003, graphic photos began regularly appearing on Internet sites frequented by pedophiles. They were "brand new," according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), and they were being posted by someone in the Tacoma area calling himself "foster dad."

In the world of Internet crimes, it seemed fairly straightforward to solve. The trail led directly to a foster father named Ronald Young, who lived in rural Pierce County. But according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of Young's victims, local police failed to immediately act on the information, leaving the children to suffer additional abuse.

This week, lawyers for eight boys who were between the ages of 5 and 12 at the time of the abuse settled the lawsuit for $11 million — with three government agencies and Young's wife, Wendy, contributing toward the total.

Young was sentenced in 2005 to 26 years in prison. Wendy Young was not charged, although the lawyers believe she should have known what was going on.

According to the lawsuit, Ronald and Wendy Young were licensed as foster parents in September 2002. Had the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) checked Young's background more thoroughly, it would have discovered that his stepfather had served time for child rape and that he lied on his application about his education, his income and other details.

The Youngs came highly recommended by friends, who described them as good Christians. Indeed, Young wore a gold cross around his neck and carried a Bible.

But by night, he scooped up his foster children from their beds and sexually abused them, posting photos on the Internet that were so graphic that even other pedophiles thought they bordered on sadistic. One boy later said he'd tried to sharpen a plastic toy to defend himself.

In September 2003, NCMEC alerted the Seattle Police Department, the designated clearinghouse for Internet child-porn cases in Washington. Seattle police were supposed to forward all of the information to Tacoma police immediately, but Seattle could not produce records showing that happened. The department also was required by law to notify DSHS about the suspected child abuse. It failed to do so.

At the time, Seattle's Internet crime unit was overwhelmed with cases and record-keeping was flawed, according to spokesman Sean Whitcomb. That has since changed.

Tacoma police waited months to begin investigating, and also failed to notify DSHS. A spokesman for the city said its policies have changed in response to this case.

The boys were abused until March 2004. Young took more than 700 photos of them engaged in sex acts with him and each other, sharing them with other pedophiles on the Internet. The boys were scared to tell anyone of about the abuse, said Erik Bauer, one of the attorneys appointed to represent the boys.

Had the police done their jobs, said Jack Connelly, another attorney in the case, they "would have had Ron Young on the same day" they got the information from NCMEC.

The city of Tacoma contributed $7.6 million toward the total settlement; Seattle settled for $1.9 million and the state settled for just more than $1 million. Wendy Young settled for nearly $500,000, which was covered by her homeowners insurance.

By Maureen O'Hagan