WA agrees to settle lawsuit about abuse at Green Hill School juvenile facility

The state has agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by 10 people who alleged they were sexually abused at the Green Hill School juvenile rehabilitation facility when they were teenagers.

One of the plaintiffs lives in Pierce County, which is where the lawsuit was filed in Superior Court in 2018. Some were at the facility in the ‘70s. Some were there as recently as the early 2000s.

The state agreed to settle their lawsuit for $2,136,175 on Sept. 1.

“Through numerous sources, the State knew or should have known that a culture of sexually inappropriate behavior pervaded the Green Hill School,” the lawsuit alleged. “The knowledge of this culture of abuse went all the way to the highest levels of management of Green Hill School and, upon information and belief, the highest levels of those State agencies charged with protecting the children sent there.”

The facility in Chehalis houses teenagers from across the state who are sentenced to juvenile rehabilitation treatment and young men sentenced by the Department of Corrections.

Darrell Cochran, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs, said Tuesday the settlement is “a fresh start” that gives his clients resources to support things such as education, stable housing and sobriety, if that’s applicable.

“The most significant aspect of this case is how prevalent sexual abuse was at Green Hill,” Cochran said. “The amount and regularity of sexual abuse was staggering. I think it’s also important to realize that this was happening at other facilities.”

The Department of Social and Health Services previously ran Green Hill and other juvenile facilities. The Department of Children, Youth and Families was created in recent years and started administering juvenile rehabilitation programs in 2019.

“These claims all stem from events that occurred between 1976 and 2008 — 15-40 years ago, and do not reflect DCYF’s current practices, policies, or procedures,” DCYF spokesperson Jason Wettstein said in a statement. “DCYF has a zero-tolerance policy for sexual abuse, takes measures to encourage reporting, and trains staff to recognize warning signs of potential sexual abuse.”

Wettstein said the state’s juvenile justice system implemented the Prison Rape Elimination Act in 2013 and that DCYF has policies in place to make sure reports of abuse are investigated.

“DCYF continually reviews its practices and policies in order to keep youth in its care safe and meet the standard of care,” he said. “DCYF hopes these settlements are a start to the healing process for these ten individuals.”

The lawsuit gives this account of what happened to the men, who are identified in court records by their initials:

The oldest plaintiff was 18 and the youngest was 14 when they went to Green Hill.

“Using positions of power and control, staff and guards at Green Hill School would sexually abuse juvenile residents,” the lawsuit said. “Capitalizing on the sexualized culture, even residents would abuse other residents. When complaints were brought to the attention of the facility staff, investigations were conducted in a grossly inadequate manner, if at all. Retaliation and suppression of complaints were common.”

The way staff handled allegations of abuse didn’t change, the lawsuit said, “even after the criminal convictions of Green Hill School staff for sexual abuse of the residents of Green Hill School dating back decades.”

Cochran said law enforcement approached three of his clients about ongoing criminal investigations.

This story was originally published on The News Tribune.