Sheriff’s office slapped with $10 million suit

Attorneys representing five women who say they were sexually assaulted by a swim coach for the North Whidbey Park and Recreation District in the 1990s have filed a tort against the Island County Sheriff’s Office, demanding $10 million to $20 million in damages.

The claim states that a district commissioner who also worked at the sheriff’s office was aware of the coach’s inappropriate conduct with young female swimmers as early as 1994 but didn’t report the problems to the appropriate authorities.

Andy King, the district’s former swim coach, is a serial pedophile who preyed on girls at a series of swim programs in Washington and California during a 30-year career. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison in 2010 after pleading guilty to 20 child molestation charges in a California courtroom.

The five women named in the claim say they were sexually abused by King while he was coach of the Aquajets swim team, which is under the North Whidbey Park and Rec umbrella.

The attorneys first filed lawsuits against the district for failing to protect the young girls; the claims allege the district performed inadequate background checks, provided insufficient supervision of King and did not adequately respond to the evidence of his inappropriate behavior.

The district’s insurance provider has paid out $6.3 million to the five women, according to the women’s attorney. The final two victims settled this month for a combined $1.4 million.

Seattle attorney Jay Krulewitch, who represented the women with co-counsel Lincoln Beauregard, said he hopes the public understands why it was necessary to take this step.

“These women deserve justice,” he said. “They certainly didn’t get it with a criminal prosecution. They are deserving of some measure of civil justice.”

The women were ages 11 to 14 when King sexually assaulted them; the abuse had profound effects on their lives over the last 20 years; and they each continue to suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, according to the claim and accompanying forensic psychiatric reports. The attorneys filed the tort claims earlier this month with the county’s risk manager.

Island County Sheriff Mark Brown said he wasn’t notified about the claim and only found out when a reporter called last week.

The claim states that Steve Hall, a former employee of the sheriff’s office, received information about King that triggered “the mandatory and investigatory laws under Chapter RCW 26.44.” The claim states that Hall was aware of King’s inappropriate conduct even before he was on the park district board. The claim says that Hall actually spoke with King about his inappropriate behavior before Hall became a district commissioner.

Hall saw young female swimmers sitting on King’s lap “hundreds of times” during swim practice and was aware that he sent roses to one of the girls, the claim states. Yet Brown said Hall, who no longer works at the office, was not a law enforcement officer, as he’s described in the claim, but a non-commissioned officer who worked as an evidence technician.

Under state RCWs, law enforcement officers, doctors, teachers and others are required to report if they have cause to believe that a child has been sexually or physically abused or neglected.

Beauregard said he believes that Hall was a mandatory reporter whether or not he was a commissioned peace officer.

King was both swim coach for the club team and aquatics director when complaints about his behavior came to a head in 1997. The district’s board was scheduled to meet about the allegations when King mysteriously disappeared.

It turned out he moved to California without telling the district and got a coaching job there. One of the victims came forward three years later — in 2000 — and reported that King had sexually assaulted her, beginning when she was a 12-year-old swimmer.

Teri Gardner, a detective with the Oak Harbor Police Department, investigated and interviewed many of the swimmers, their parents and district officials about King’s behavior.

Several people reported suspicions about King; they noted that he commonly had girls sit on his lap, took girls to dinner alone, made comments about girls’ appearance, measured girls’ bodies, asked personal questions, paid for their “glamour shots” and generally made girls feel uncomfortable. Others said they had no problems with him.

Gardner ended the report by writing, “there is not enough evidence to proceed further with this case.”

Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Steve Selby handled the referral from Gardner and decided not to prosecute. Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks previously said that prosecutors had no reason to doubt the victim, but he agreed at the time that there wasn’t enough evidence to prosecute and takes responsibility for that difficult decision.

Krulewitch, however, said there was enough evidence to try King and that the prosecutor’s decision was devastating to the victim.

“Had King been properly prosecuted and convicted in Washington,” he said, “the young girls in California wouldn’t have suffered the same fate.”