A federal judge this week partially dismissed a couple’s lawsuit against the Dayton School District, an educational service district and others for the sexual assault of their developmentally disabled adult daughter.
The parents say their adopted daughter was so traumatized by the assaults, which happened while she was being taken to a work program, she would scratch her skin until she bled, isolated herself and was tormented by nightmares, according to documents filed in federal court.
U.S. District Judge Thomas O. Rice said the couple did not have standing for some of their claims or didn’t provide sufficient evidence, including an allegation that officials intended to expose their daughter to risk.
“While these allegations may constitute gross negligence, they do not rise to the ‘markedly higher’ standard of deliberate indifference,” said Rice’s order.
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Attorneys representing the school district and the others said they were happy with the judge’s decision and that their clients did not do anything wrong.
Darrell Cochran, the family’s Tacoma-based attorney, said the judge’s ruling was a minor setback and had more to do with questions of whether the case is being tried in the right court.
“None of that has to do with the basic merits of the case,” Cochran told the Herald.
The victim, now 19, has attended school in Dayton since 1998, and long has been documented as having significant impairments and cognitive delays, according to the original lawsuit. She is diagnosed with fetal alcohol syndrome, has persistent anxiety and the academic skills of a first-grader.
She and her parents are not named under a Herald policy to not identify victims of sexual crimes.
The district arranged for the woman to be in a work program four days a week last summer. Soon after, Larry Bush, the district’s special education director, told her parents that their daughter would have to make the 70-mile roundtrip bus ride on a Columbia County Public Transportation bus without her para-educator.
The couple said their daughter did not have the skills to be unsupervised on the bus. Bush told them the district couldn’t afford the para-educator but that their daughter would be safe and looked after.
Surveillance video footage showed at least seven incidents when the woman was harassed or assaulted between Dec. 11, 2011, and Jan. 12, 2012. One segment showed a male passenger unzipping the woman’s pants and putting his hand between her legs.
The woman told her parents of the assaults and they contacted law enforcement, who notified the school district. She and her family had to seek counseling and support, and she was diagnosed with acute stress disorder, said the lawsuit. She was prescribed medication and her psychological state is guarded, said the lawsuit.
After the incidents, the district provided a para-educator for the woman. But months later, the district sought to remove the para-educator and instead have her ride the bus with a placard that encouraged others not to sit near her.
“The (parents) emphasized this plan was insensitive, discriminatory and inhumane,” said the lawsuit.
The school district, county transportation department and Educational Service District 112 — based in Vancouver but is the district’s special education contractor —sought to dismiss parts of the lawsuit.
Part of the issue is that some of the incidents happened when the woman was a minor and some when she was a legal adult.
“We don’t think we did anything wrong,” said Wenatchee-based attorney Patrick McMahon, who is representing the county transportation department.
Mike Patterson, a Seattle-based attorney representing the school district, service district, Bush and Superintendent Doug Johnson, said his clients did not have responsibility because it was not a school district bus.
Patterson said he would continue to work to have the case dropped from federal court.
Cochran said the case could be pursued in a lower court if necessary. That would potentially require the couple to sue the school district, county transportation department and ESD in different courts, because they are not in the same county.
“It’s really inefficient to do it that way,” he said.
-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @_tybeaver