Teen who says he was raped by juvenile detention center staff fights back through the civil system

The suit filed by C. O’H. also names then-superintendent Marybeth Queral and Lori Nesmith, who was a supervisor during the charged period and is now the associate superintendent. A second former resident intends to join the suit.

There was ample warning that staff were assaulting teens going back nearly a decade. 

In 2009, Deanna Witters, the institution’s cook, pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree custodial sexual abuse and received just 30 days in jail with eligibility for work release, meaning she could leave, do her job, then return, further reducing jail time.

Witters’ attorney, Paul Dugaw, told the court that Witters had given information to investigators regarding sexual misconduct between inmates and at least five other employees. Dugaw said Green Hill administrators forced those employees to resign following the allegations. He said those employees haven’t been charged with any crime even though they may have engaged in sexual acts with minors.

Green Hill Superintendent Marybeth Queral denied Witters’ claims, saying no more employees were asked to leave amidst sexual misconduct allegations.

“Nobody was forced to resign,” Queral said. “I would never ask for someone to resign.”

Lewis County Prosecutor Michael Golden said he hadn’t heard of any new charges involving the employees, but said he knew Witters would be “disclosing everything she knows” about additional misconduct to investigators. If that investigation warrants any charges against the employees, Golden said, his office would pursue them.

During proceedings, Witters warned investigators that the abuse was widespread.

“It’s the culture out there, it happens all the time.”

Yet neither Green Hill authorities nor the Department of Social and Health Services, which is responsible for the institution, adequately addressed the abuses Witters exposed. The institution even actively protected its staff: C. O’H. claims that a school administrator blocked him from reporting one of his abusers under the Prison Rape Elimination Act.

Seven years after Witters’ prosecution, a counselor with a history of complaints—one of the two that C. O’H. alleges assaulted him—pleaded guilty to first-degree custodial sexual misconduct. The staffer, Erin Stiebritz, received just two weeks in jail and counseling.

C. O’H.’s second alleged abuser, Katherine Kimbrel, is fighting charges.

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.

Kimbrel has been charged with two felonies and a gross misdemeanor. Despite having admitted to some of the charged behavior, there’s reason to fear she, too, may escape steeper consequences.

Superior Court Judge Andrew Toynbee granted Kimbrel $5,000 unsecured bail, allowing her to remain out of custody for future court hearings, citing her lack of criminal history.

“I do acknowledge that these are serious charges,” Toynbee said.

C. O’H. hasn’t yet seen proportionate justice through the criminal system, although it’s still possible he will in Kimbrel’s case—or if additional charges are filed against Stiebritz.

Tesh promises ample evidence that senior administrators were aware of the abuse. If so, C. O’H.’s shot at justice through the civil system is far better—and more likely to instigate institutional change—than the criminal cases, which proved insufficient impetus for reform. How backward is that?

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