Seattle settles in foster kids' suit

The Seattle PI

June 9, 2008

The cities of Tacoma and Seattle and the state will pay a combined $10.5 million to eight foster children to settle a lawsuit claiming that police failed to properly respond to reports that a Pierce County foster father had sexually abused the youths.

The suit also said the Department of Social and Health Services failed to adequately screen and monitor Ronald Young. He admitted raping and sexually exploiting his foster children -- detectives called it one of the most horrific cases they had ever seen -- and was convicted in 2004.

The Tacoma City Council on Tuesday approved paying $7.6 million to settle its portion of the suit. The city of Seattle will pay $1.9 million, with the state paying $1 million in the settlement, reached July 2.

"It was a good settlement for the children involved," said Jack Connelly, one of their lawyers. "It will allow them to move forward in their lives. Just as importantly, the case brought to light the needs of the agencies to work together and for the police to follow the law when they have information of children being abused."

He said Young brutally assaulted six of the eight foster children, ages 5 to 12 at the time and all boys, over 18 months and was grooming the other two.

Prosecutors said Young photographed the boys in sexual positions and posted hundreds of their images on a pedophile Web site. The Key Peninsula man called himself "fosterdad" on the Internet.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children notified Seattle police of the postings and Young's home address in September 2003.

Seattle police claimed to have mailed the information the same month to Tacoma police, which claimed it did not receive it until December 2003. Tacoma police delayed arresting Young until March 25, 2004, with neither police agency notifying DSHS, as required.

"This was a situation where the process failed us. It's very unfortunate what happened," said Rob McNair-Huff, a spokesman for the city of Tacoma.

"We have a new system of tracking and logging reports to make sure all information is tracked, which will avoid this happening again."

Seattle police created an Interstate Crimes Against Children Task Force in 2000 and the next year became the state clearinghouse for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

"Given the volume of work that our task force was doing and the fact that we were relatively new, our recordkeeping wasn't as it should have been," police spokesman Sean Whitcomb said. "We were handling hundreds of tips a month."

Seattle police have changed their procedures since the case, using proprietary software that records all tips and tracks them as they are referred to other agencies, and using certified mail when forwarding information.

"That wasn't the case in 2003, unfortunately," said Whitcomb, adding that police "couldn't feel sorrier" for what happened to the children.

Police will work with the Justice Department and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to determine if further procedural changes are needed, he said, and will meet with DSHS to improve communications.

In November 2004, Young -- then 41 and an erstwhile mobile-home repairman -- pleaded guilty to three counts of child rape, four charges of sexually exploiting minors and one count of trafficking child pornographic images. He is serving 26 years to life in prison.

Connelly called the crimes "unspeakable" and said experts testified that Young's treatment of the children was akin to torture.

"Kids were taken out of their room, taken to Young's room or bathroom, and came back crying," Connelly said, with the other children wondering, "When is it going to happen to me?"

DSHS spokesman Steve Williams said there was no way the state could have foreseen that Young "could commit such horrific actions against those children."

"There was no indication in advance, no criminal record, no report of abuse while it was happening," he said. "We had done our criminal background check, done our regular check, verified character references. No one knew about it until after the fact."

Williams said DSHS made no changes as a result of the case because "the procedures in place were working. But there was no way of knowing someone was going to offend."

The state agreed to the settlement one day before receiving notice that Pierce County Superior Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff had dismissed the claims against the state.

Agreeing to the settlement was still the right decision, given the cost of litigation and the risk of further litigation, Assistant Attorney General Patricia Fetterly said.

The settlement requires court approval, which might occur in a month. If approved, some of the money would be placed in a trust, with periodic, structured payments made to the children over their lifetimes, Connelly said.

In a separate settlement reached in February, the state agreed to pay $25,000 to the children for a negligence claim against Young's wife, Wendy, with her insurance company paying more than $450,000.

http://www.seattlepi.com/local/370116_foster10.html

By JOHN IWASAKI