Social Worker Fired Over Abuse At Boys Ranch Three Others Sanctioned For Handling Of Complaints
Three state social workers have been sanctioned for their handling of abuse complaints at the OK Boys Ranch and a fourth has been fired for giving confidential police files to officials of the group home for troubled boys.
‘These were the maximum sanctions that we could legally use,” Gov. Mike Lowry told a Thursday news conference with Department of Social and Health Services Secretary Lyle Quasim.
The actions were prompted by the findings of a year-long investigation by the Washington State Patrol, which was asked by Lowry to determine how well DSHS protected boys placed at the Olympia home.
The 15-bed facility, which operated under contract to the state, was shut down in September 1994 - seven years after a resident complained of abuse and two years after local police determined that younger boys there were raped and beaten by older boys. Residents also were physically abused by staff.
“In those days, we did not see kid-on-kid consensual sex as an abuse issue,” said sanctioned former DSHS administrator Mark Redal, explaining to state police investigators why he had not shut the facility down previously.
An earlier criminal investigation resulted in felony charges against three top officials at the private, non-profit group home. Attorney General Christine Gregoire said last year there was insufficient evidence for criminal charges against DSHS workers.
Twenty-six former residents and their lawyers have won a total of about $8.5 million in damages from the state. An additional $5.2 million has been paid by insurers for the Kiwanis Club of Olympia, which ran the home, and by insurers for the home itself.
Here are the actions announced Thursday:
George Hartwell of Olympia, who had been part of the DSHS team investigating the ranch, was fired effective Aug. 28.
The patrol determined that in 1992, Hartwell gave top OK Boys Ranch officials an Olympia police department report detailing findings of abuse at the ranch, thus tipping the officials to possible charges against them.
Hartwell denied the allegations, the state police report said.
The 26-year Child Protective Services worker declined comment Thursday when reached at home.
Nancy Gassett, an Olympia police sergeant, told investigators she had given Hartwell the report and told him to keep it confidential. She later learned he had given the report to the ranch’s director, Tom Van Woerden, one of those now facing felony charges.
Redal, the former administrator who oversaw the offices monitoring the group home, was issued a letter of reprimand for failing to protect ranch residents.
Redal excused his failure to close the ranch partly on grounds that officials at the time did not consider consensual sex a problem.
DSHS social worker Sue Corwin told investigators that she twice asked Redal to close the facility.
“Corwin said it was Redal’s philosophy if there was a problem at the OKBR to write a corrective action plan for the facility. If the OKBR did not comply with the corrective plan, then write another,” the report said.
Redal could not be located for comment Thursday.
Kristy Galt, a DSHS area manager and Redal’s second-in-command, was issued a “job performance corrective plan” and is “being closely monitored for compliance,” Quasim said.
Corinne Newman, Thurston County Juvenile Detention Center administrator, told investigators that Galt “should have been the first person sounding the alarm on the physical and sexual abuse at the OK Boys Ranch.”
Galt did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
Steven Ennett, for a time charged with licensing and inspecting the group home, received a letter of reprimand and is under “close supervision,” Quasim said.
Ennett was described by colleagues as “very disorganized … his files always lacked the proper documentation,” the report said. Colleagues also said they believe he “backfilled” incomplete records when confronted by superiors.
Ennett denied that and told investigators his work suffered after the death of a daughter.
Ennett could not be located for comment Thursday.