A former inmate at a juvenile detention center in Washington was allegedly raped multiple times by his own counselors. And he wasn’t alone, a new lawsuit claims.
The allegedly pervasive sexual abuse at the all-male Green Hill School in Chehalis was perpetrated by counselors, a cook, and other staff members, according to the lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of a former inmate and sexual-assault victim.
To make matters worse, state officials “ignored” the repeated alleged abuse and “protected” the perpetrators, the lawsuit claims.
“We’ve heard of at least six or more children at the school being abused by staff,” the former inmate’s attorney, Tim Tesh, told The Daily Beast on Thursday. But he said that number is the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to the actual abuses potentially perpetrated at the school.
Tesh’s client, a now-21-year-old former inmate at the facility, says he was sexually assaulted by two counselors from 2013 to 2015, and that the state’s Department of Social and Health Services “protected” the abusers. He was 16 years old when the alleged abuses started.
In addition to his two allegations against counselors at the facility, the victim—identified in the suit only as C. O-H—“witnessed other residents being sexually assaulted by staff.”
“They are victims, and they don’t have the ability to consent,” Tesh told The Daily Beast. “They have the keys to these young mens’ freedom.”
“A culture of sexually inappropriate behavior by both guards and staff” has “pervaded” the school for many years, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in King County Superior Court on Feb. 28.
“It was common for the female staff at Green Hill School to engage in sexually inappropriate relationships with the residents, who were routinely minors,” the lawsuit claims. “Retaliation and suppression of complaints were common. Supervision of the staff was laissez faire at best and at worst supervisory staff actively condoned the abuse and protected the abusers.”
O-H was sexually assaulted by Katherine Kimbrel, a counselor at the facility, in November 2013, the lawsuit claims. Kimbrel allegedly began “grooming” him as early as June of that year.
“Subsequent to this, Kimbrel used her position of power and authority to rape Plaintiff regularly,” the document alleges. “This abuse continued the entire time Plaintiff was a resident of Green Hill School.”
Kimbrel, 41, was charged in January with first-degree sexual misconduct with a minor, first-degree custodial sexual misconduct, and communication with a minor for immoral purposes. Kimbrel has pleaded not guilty, and her trial is expected to begin in May, The Chronicle of Centralia reports.
She had previously been investigated—at least three times—by state social services for similar allegations, the complaint alleges. Because of those previous instances, the facility “should have known” about her conduct, but “took no action to supervise and/or provide any protection to residents with whom Kimbrel had daily contact,” according to the lawsuit.
Court documents obtained by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer claim the complaints were “screened out” over a lack of evidence.
The suit also names another counselor at the facility, Erin Stiebritz, who allegedly “engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior” with the boy, who claims such abuse by Stiebritz against teens at the school was first reported in 2014.
Stiebritz pleaded guilty to first-degree custodial sexual misconduct in 2016 for the sexual abuse of an inmate. She was reportedly sentenced to counseling and to two weeks in jail.
“Defendants knew or should have known of these reports of sexual misconduct and the investigations they spawned, yet took no action to supervise or provide protective measures to residents with whom Stiebritz had daily contact,” the suit claims.
O-H allegedly tried to make an official complaint in February 2015 about Stiebritz’s alleged misconduct through the Prison Rape Elimination Act. The suit claims that Nesmith, a member of the school’s administration, “actively attempted to prevent him from making the complaint, including refusing to allow [him] to call the PREA hotline number.”
O-H also allegedly tried to report the abuses by both Kimbrel and Stiebritz on more than one occasion to various employees of the facility’s staff, but staff members allegedly refused to submit his reports through the proper channels.
“Investigations of these allegations were inadequate and were quickly closed,” according to the suit.
Tesh also represents a second former inmate who has filed a tort claim against the state alleging abuse at the facility, he told The Daily Beast. The lawyer said he intends to file more lawsuits against the facility.
“Where institutions want to eliminate this problem, they can do it,” Tesh said. “It’s not rocket science.”
In 2009, a 52-year-old former cook at the juvenile facility, Deanna Witters, pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree custodial sexual misconduct after allegedly admitting to an inappropriate relationship with one of the inmates, according to The Chronicle.
The state reportedly could not prove the boy was a minor at the time that the incidents occurred, causing them to drop a charge of first-degree sexual misconduct with a minor.
At a hearing in Witters’ case, her attorney, Paul Dugaw, reportedly told the court that his client told investigators about pervasive sexual misconduct at the facility, including allegations about at least five other employees.
The school’s then-superintendent, Marybeth Queral, told the Chronicle in 2009 that the 250-employee facility was flawed because its employees were “humans.”
“You’re working with humans, we have personal and professional lives,” she told the newspaper. “Unfortunate things come up but we respond accordingly.”
The suit names as defendants the state’s Department of Social and Health Services; Marybeth Queral, who is now an assistant secretary and director of the Rehabilitation Administration at the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services; and Lori Nesmith, a former associate supervisor at the facility.
O-H is seeking unspecified damages to be determined at a jury trial.
The Department of Social and Health Services reportedly declined to comment to multiple local outlets about the matter, citing pending litigation.
“The knowledge of this culture of abuse went all the way to the highest levels of management of Green Hill School and, upon information and belief, the highest levels of Juvenile Rehabilitation of the Department of Social and Health Services,” the complaint states.
But Tesh is worried about public concern for the victims, who he says aren’t viewed the way female victims of sexual assault are viewed.
“How much do we care as a society about young men or boys being sexually assaulted while incarcerated?”