Kennewick School District settles lawsuit with 3 Pickerel sex abuse victims

Tri-City Herald

Three former Kennewick students reached a settlement with the school district Thursday over allegations that administrators failed to protect them from sexual abuse by teacher and wrestling coach William B. Pickerel.

Details of the confidential settlement were not available, including how much will be paid to the men and whether the district accepted responsibility for not doing anything about inappropriate conduct.

A school district spokeswoman told the Herald on Thursday afternoon that there was no public record regarding a settlement amount.

Nothing was filed in Benton County Superior Court after attorneys for both sides met with Judge Carrie Runge in the morning.

In all, 15 men were seeking $70 million from the district, claiming that administrators and teachers were aware of Pickerel’s out-of-town sports trips with male students, but never stopped them.

The trips were not organized by the school district.

“Our clients are satisfied with the settlement and appreciate the support they have received through this difficult process,” Tamaki Law attorneys Jeff Kreutz and Megan Chang-Ngaruiya said in a news release.

Kreutz and Chang-Ngaruiya represent the 15 men who are only named as “John Does” in the lawsuit.

Pickerel, now 81, was not named in the suit filed in 2014. He served 5 1/2 years of a 10-year sentence after pleading guilty in 2008 to molestation and sexual misconduct with a minor.

The charges involved five Tri-City boys, though Pickerel confessed to police that he molested “numerous other boys over 27 years.”

The settlement only covers the three men involved in the first civil trial, which began earlier this week with jury selection. The remaining pool of 40 jurors was released after the private meeting between the attorneys and Runge.

The remaining plaintiffs have been divided into three other trials. No dates have been set.

The men now range in age from their 20s to about 48. They reported that the abuse occurred between 1983 and 2007.

Pickerel taught in Kennewick for nearly 38 years, first at Park Junior High and later at Kennewick High. He retired in January 1998 but continued to work as a substitute teacher. He also was a wrestling coach.

“We are glad that we are able to resolve these claims so we can avoid potentially painful litigation for the victims, and for our current and former staff members who would be required to testify,” Superintendent Dave Bond said in a news release.

The release said there “will be no further statement issued by the district regarding the settlement.”

The Herald previously reported that the Kennewick School District could be on the hook for $30 million in damages, or a little less than one fifth of its annual general fund, if it was found at fault.

An insurance policy meant to protect the district in such cases ended in 2014 because the insurer was dissolved, according to court documents.

The first of Pickerel’s alleged victims didn’t file claims with the district until months after the insurance coverage was cut off.

“To date, all efforts to determine if coverage can be obtained have been unsuccessful, resulting in approximately $30 million in claims that are not subject to indemnity under an insurance policy, " Michael McFarland, the district's attorney, said in court documents.