February 15, 1996 in City

Boys Abused By Politics, Charitable Donor Report Outlines Abuses Beyond State Neglect At Now-Closed Group Home

Hal Spencer Associated Press

Boys who were sexually abused and beaten at the now-closed OK Boys Ranch suffered not only from state neglect but from politics, timid prosecutors and even a charitable donor who sexually abused some of the children, a report said Wednesday.

The Washington State Patrol, in an administrative review of the group home scandal, found that a wide range of people involved with the home for troubled boys often took actions aimed more at keeping the 15-bed facility out of trouble than to protect the youths.

The state-licensed home operated by the Olympia Kiwanis Club was closed in 1994. Three former directors at the private, nonprofit facility face felony charges of failing to protect the boys.

“I can’t think of anything that has made me madder as the governor of this state” than the report’s findings, Gov. Mike Lowry told a news conference. He, legislators and state officials all told reporters they were taking steps to avoid future scandals involving children under state care.

The patrol withheld part of the report that addresses possible wrongdoing by Department of Social and Health Services social workers “due to ongoing administrative processes relating to employee misconduct,” Chief Annette M. Sandberg said in a letter to Lowry.

Patrol investigators found that “outside influences” and “systemic issues” played a big role in DSHS’ failure to act between 1988 and 1994, a period in which at least 26 boys at the home suffered sexual and physical abuse at the hands of older and stronger boys.

The Olympia Kiwanis Club and the state have paid millions of dollars in damages to the boys to settle lawsuits alleging abuse.

The report said individuals, including Kiwanis Club board members and ranch officials, routinely lobbied state legislators for help “anytime DSHS tried to take any regulatory action impacting a group home.” No legislators were named in the report.

Another outside influence came in the form of a charitable donation of 20 acres of land to the ranch in September 1980 by two Shelton men, Jim Edgbert and Roy Hanning. The ranch sold the land in 1993 for $125,000.

The two men were approved by the ranch to host weekend visits by some of the boys, even after the pair’s state foster care license lapsed. The ranch stopped sending boys there after Hanning was arrested and later convicted of sexually assaulting a boy on a weekend visit, the report said.

A police probe revealed Hanning “had also sexually assaulted three other boys from the (ranch) during similar weekend visits,” it said.

Patrol investigators discovered irregularities within the state Attorney General’s Office over its failure to collect $106,000 in overpayments to the ranch in the late 1980s. The report said it is continuing to investigate those findings.

The report said Assistant Attorney General Chris Jennings, then working under former Attorney General Ken Eikenberry, allowed the ranch to settle the debt with a “stipulated agreement” in which it eventually paid only $6,900.

“Investigators asked Jennings why DSHS agreed to the stipulated agreement instead of demanding payment in full. Jennings stated that at the time the stipulated agreement was made … there were limited resources in his unit for litigation. He also stated that the cost of litigating the overpayment may have been more than the overpayment itself,” the report said.

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