New allegations of sexual abuse at Tacoma boys' home

TACOMA, Wash. — There are new allegations of sexual abuse at a former, state-run home for boys.

The abuse allegedly occurred at the Jessie Dyslin Boys Ranch in Tacoma during the 1980s and 1990s.
Two plaintiffs who've just come forward are identified in Pierce County Superior Court documents as "A.N." and "J.S."

The now-grown men join dozens of others currently suing the state of Washington and other organizations because of claims of abuse at group homes.

The allegations of widespread abuse at state-run facilities first surfaced more than 20 years ago, and in 1994, the O.K. Boys Ranch in Olympia shut its doors.

After years of legal wrangling, more than $22 million was eventually paid to 51 men who claimed to have been victims of abuse while living at the O.K. Boys Ranch during the 1980s and 1990s.

At the time, the plaintiffs’ attorneys – Jack Connelly, of Connelly Law Offices in Tacoma -- told KIRO 7 it was “evident in the records that the ranch staff was aware this was going on.”

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The plaintiffs’ other attorney, Richard Kelley, said in 1994 that the young residents of the OK Boys Ranch “would be beaten with socks with batteries in them. They would go to the staff and tell the staff this had happened to them and almost every one of them were told, ‘you are going to have to take care of it yourself. This is the law of the jungle at the Boys’ Ranch.’”

However, times have changed, according to lawyer Darrell Cochran of Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala PLLC.

On Tuesday, Cochran told KIRO 7 that alleged victims now feel it is safe to come forward with allegations of sexual abuse, even decades later.

“We now have the environment where people will listen to boys who have been sexually abused and raped,” Cochran said from his Tacoma office.

In addition to the more than four dozen OK Boys Ranch plaintiffs, more than 40 other now-grown men claim to have been sexually abused during the same time period at the Kiwanis Vocational Home in Centralia.

That home is also now closed.

To date, more than $5 million in settlement money has been distributed, with another 44 cases still pending, according to Cochran.

“One of the real tragedies about what was happening at the Kiwanis Vocational Home was that the state, DSHS specifically, knew the boys were being horrifically sexually abused there back in the '80s and '90s but made a decision somewhere in the administration that it was not going to reach out and help those boys,” Cochran said.

He claimed the state’s plan was to “close those group homes and hope it would all just fade away.”

However, Cochran said he continues to hear from additional men who claim to have been abused at state-run group homes decades ago.

The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services is named as a defendant in all the lawsuits, including the two just filed against the Jessie Dyslin Boys Ranch in Tacoma. “The DSHS has responsibility for licensing group foster care homes, and one of their primary responsibilities is to make sure, if they’re taking a boy out of their own family home, that they’re placing them into a better home, a nurturing and a safe home,” Cochran said.

According to Cochran, there are two reasons to file lawsuits in cases that are decades old: to help finance a fresh start for the alleged victims and to make sure Washington state's children are safe in the future.

“The lawsuits now are an important reminder that a group home setting, where you might be combining 70 kids under the care of people who are barely qualified to be providing child care is a terrible idea,” Cochran said.

He admitted that since the allegations were first brought to light, there are now far fewer group homes in Washington state that house fewer children and are operated by more qualified caregivers than in the 1980s and 1990s.

Debra Johnson, of the Washington State Department of Children, Youth and Family Services, told KIRO 7 she could not comment on the pending lawsuits – including the two new ones --- but said the state is continuously evaluating and improving the quality of its programs, including new licensing requirements that went into effect in 1996.

A spokesperson for Kiwanis International would also not comment on the pending litigation.

Meanwhile, Marilee Jolin, a spokesperson for Amara, the new owner of the Jessie Dyslin property in Tacoma, said the site was purchased out of bankruptcy court four months ago and has “no connection with any of the organizations that previously occupied or owned the property.”