Attorney for abuse victims sues Kennewick School District

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 26, 2014 

An attorney representing the sex abuse victims of a former Kennewick High School teacher is suing the Kennewick School District for failing to provide public records connected to the case.

The district has failed to promptly respond, if at all, to document requests regarding William Pickerel, according to documents filed Wednesday in Benton County Superior Court.

The district also has refused to provide any portion of a June 2008 letter from two district attorneys to the superintendent, court documents said. The district is required to redact any privileged information and provide the letter, said attorney Jeff Kreutz of Tamaki Law in Kennewick, but the district has told him the entire letter is exempt from public disclosure.

"We'd just like to know what the district did to protect students," Kreutz told the Herald.

The district hasn't received notice of the public records lawsuit and cannot comment, said spokeswoman Robyn Chastain. District officials have provided documents in response Kreutz's requests as required by state law but some are exempt, district officials have said.

Kreutz has said he plans to file a claim against the district for knowing or that it should have known of Pickerel's actions and didn't do enough to protect Pickerel's victims. District officials have declined to discuss potential litigation.

Pickerel, now 78, taught in the district from 1960-98. He was a highly-regarded wrestling coach and teacher who abused dozens of boys on non-school sanctioned out-of-town trips to events. Allegations against him surfaced in 2007.

Pickerel pleaded guilty in 2008 in King County Superior Court for having sex with or inappropriately touching five Kennewick boys during overnight stays in Seattle. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison but is set to be released after serving 51/2 years because of good behavior. He will be released in King County and be under community supervision.

Similar charges against Pickerel in Benton County were dropped and none of the abuse reportedly happened on Kennewick school grounds.

Kreutz began seeking documents from the district in August 2013. The district was days late in its initial and follow-up responses to that request, violating state law, and either did not provide any documents or denied their existence, court documents said.

When Kreutz pressed the matter, the district said it had withheld the seven-page letter from attorneys Diehl Rettig and Cheryl Adamson to the superintendent, claiming it was fully exempt from a public records request because of attorney client privilege, court documents said.

Kreutz filed a second public records request in early October 2013, seeking reports and records connected to a district investigation of Pickerel. The district said it would need 30 business days to fully respond but Kreutz said he has not had any further communication from the district on his request since mid-October.

"Anyone's entitled to this information," Kreutz told the Herald. "We're just running up against a brick wall."

A hearing date has not yet been set for the case. In addition to seeking the requested documents, Kreutz is asking the judge for the district to pay his legal costs but also thousands of dollars in penalties for the district's failure to provide public records.

Kreutz said he did not want to sue the district but had no other recourse.

"I'm 100 percent confident that the judge will look at this and require them to comply," he said.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald

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