Wenatchee schools settle disabled student’s negligence claim
Monday, January 28, 2013
WENATCHEE — The Wenatchee School District agreed last month to pay $800,000 to settle a long-running lawsuit involving student-on-student abuse at the high school.
Of that settlement amount, approved in Chelan County Superior Court on Dec. 31, a trust set up for the victim will receive roughly $354,000 after attorneys’ fees, court costs and Medicare and Medicaid liens, according to court filings.
“While the plaintiffs do not feel that the settlement offer will approach full compensation for (the victim’s) injuries, they do wish to accept it in order to avoid further delays and the emotional trauma and uncertain outcome of a trial,” according to a guardian ad litem’s report filed with the court Dec. 20.
Diana and Jack Snyder filed suit in 2005, claiming their developmentally disabled son was threatened with a gun and sexually abused in 1999 by another student in Wenatchee High School’s special education program. The incidents occurred on school grounds when the boy was 15, according to the court complaint.
The victim and witnesses told Wenatchee police in December 1999 that the assailant, then 15, threatened to shoot the victim, then brought a pistol to school, pointed it at the victim in the cafeteria and pulled the trigger, with no discharge. WHS Principal Dennis Friedrich found an unloaded .25-caliber pistol and a magazine containing three bullets in the assailant’s backpack, police reports show.
The victim later told mental health counselors that his assailant had previously sexually assaulted him in a dressing room prior to a P.E. class, and threatened to kill him if he reported it. The other student was never charged in that claim.
The assailant was sentenced to 56 days in juvenile confinement and a year’s probation after pleading guilty to possessing a firearm on school grounds, but a charge of assault was dropped. Prosecutors said the assailant’s competence to stand trial was in question. He was barred from any contact with the victim until February 2001, but returned to school that January.
The Snyders’ lawsuit said they were not notified of the assailant’s reinstatement at the school; that teachers and administrators lied when asked whether the assailant had returned to class; and that the assailant further threatened the victim, causing further emotional trauma that led to disciplinary problems and academic setbacks.
The victim was accused of violating the protective order by threatening his assailant, and expelled from school. He was hospitalized in spring of 2001, and attempted suicide. He made the sexual abuse claim during his hospitalization, and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from the pistol incident.
Among other claims, the Snyders’ suit accused the school district of negligence, saying it did not ask for a modified court order to allow the assailant’s return to school and took no steps to allay the problems, such as transferring the assailant to another school.
The district replied that it could not have foreseen the danger, and the fact that the rape went unreported prevented it from properly addressing the conflict that arose when both boys were back in school.
Wenatchee Schools Superintendent Brian Flones said the settlement agreement itself between the insurers and the Snyders hasn’t been finalized, and district lawyers advised him not to comment.
“There were couple of matters within the settlement that still needed to be agreed upon by both parties, and then signed,” Flones said.
In 2007, the district paid a $150,000 settlement over a 2003 sexual assault committed by two special education students on WHS grounds against a female classmate also in the program. The victim’s family in that case also claimed negligence, saying the students were unsupervised.
The victim in the Snyder case, now 28, suffers from schizoaffective disorder among other mental issues. “His disability is so severe that it will prevent him from meaningful future employment and will prohibit him from being able to live independently,” guardian ad litem William Dussault wrote.
The assailant, now 29, is currently charged with unlawful possession of methamphetamine in Chelan County, and faces trial in March. Since 2001 he’s entered guilty pleas to third- and fourth-degree assault and domestic violence.
Approval of the settlement was one of Chelan County Superior Court Judge John Bridges’ last acts before his Dec. 31 retirement.
Jefferson Robbins: 664-7123
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