Jury finds city, county negligent in child sex ring case
Couple awarded $3 million; Robersons get no money but feel vindicated
Wednesday, August 1, 2001
A Spokane County jury yesterday found the city of Wenatchee and Douglas County negligent in the now-discredited 1994-1995 Wenatchee child sex ring investigations, awarding $3 million to a couple who had been wrongly accused in the inquiry.
In the first test of a landmark state Supreme Court decision
September that ruled police can be sued for conducting negligent
child-abuse investigations, Honnah and Jonathan Sims were awarded the
money after a three-week civil trial before Superior Court Judge
Douglas County was found liable for all of the damage award, with the city of Wenatchee cleared of any liability in the Simses' case.
The jury, which deliberated all day Monday and most of yesterday, also found that both the city and county were negligent in the investigations of East Wenatchee pastor Roby Roberson and his wife, Connie, key figures accused in the case.
But the jury decided that the investigation into Roberson, begun by former Wenatchee police Detective Bob Perez and forwarded to Douglas County, where the Robersons and the Simses live, did not meet the standards requiring monetary damages.
The four were among six plaintiffs who had sought between $12 million and $20 million in damages. The Simses' son, Daniel, also a plaintiff, did not receive a damage award. The jury also found that Wenatchee's investigation of Donna Rodriguez was negligent but decided against a monetary award.
The Robersons and Honnah Sims, who had been a Sunday school teacher at Roberson's church, were acquitted of child rape and molestation charges in 1995. Charges against Rodriguez, a parishioner in the church, were dismissed in 1996 when four of her five accusers recanted.
Two children who made most of the accusations -- tales of mass sex rings involving dozens of children and adults operating out of Roberson's church -- were under foster care and living in Perez's home.
Neither Stan Bastian, Douglas County's lawyer, or Pat McMahon, Wenatchee's defender, could not be reached for comment last night.
Roberson, one of the plaintiffs, said he was "very, very happy" with the outcome, particularly that the jury found the county and the city negligent.
Roberson didn't express disappointment in not being personally awarded any damages, as Sims and her husband were. "It's never been an issue of money, anyway."
"To me the closure point was actually 1998. With ...everybody being freed from jail. Finally our character and reputations were restored and these people (police and prosecutors) were exposed."
In 1994 and 1995, Perez and Child Protective Services caseworkers initiated a series of investigations in Wenatchee that resulted in 43 people charged with 27,726 counts of child rape and molestation against 60 children.
Roberson came under investigation in 1995 after he began criticizing Perez's investigations and the arrests of two parishioners, Harold and Idella Everett, a poor, developmentally disabled couple. The Everetts, parents to the two foster children making accusations while living under in Perez's supervision, served five years in prison before they were released when their case was overturned in September 1998.
The investigation initiated by Perez and forwarded to Douglas County investigators, eventually named a wide range of people including a state social worker who once had questioned his methods.
Though he is a central figure to the cases, Perez, who left the Police Department several years ago, was not called to testify in the recent civil suit.
All 18 people convicted in the investigations he initiated have since been released, their convictions overturned or agreements made to plead guilty to lesser and usually unrelated charges.
In February 1998, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer published "The Power to Harm," a series of articles exploring the conduct of police, lawyers, social workers and others involved in the investigations.
A month later, a special fact-finding judge appointed by the state court of appeals, Whitman County Superior Court Judge Wallis Friel, began hearing the first of several appeals. Perez's investigations began to unravel amid evidence of bungling by police and prosecutors, conflicts of interest involving a judge, and inept defense counsel.
At least 14 civil suits involving people who went to prison are pending.
The state Department of Social and Health Services, whose social workers joined in the investigations, previously settled with the Robersons and Honnah Sims in December 1999 for $850,000.
Last November, Roberson settled for an undisclosed sum with Chelan County after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a federal district judge erred in throwing out a $231,253 jury damage award, giving him instead $1.
P-I reporter Mike Barber can be reached at 206-448-8018 or email@example.com
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