July 15, 2006 in City

Girl, 16, sues in firehouse sex case

By The Spokesman-Review
 

A $1 million claim for “wrongful conduct” was filed Friday against Spokane’s Fire and Police departments by attorneys representing the 16-year-old girl who now contends she was raped by an on-duty firefighter.

Digital pictures firefighter Daniel W. Ross took of the partially naked girl during their firehouse encounter in February were deleted from his camera at the direction of two police detectives. One detective received a two-day suspension without pay; the other was suspended for three days.The detectives ordered deletion of the digital pictures because the photos would have proven Ross had committed a crime by raping the teenager, attorneys Scott Miller and Greg Devlin said in the claim.

The destruction of the photos at the direction of Detective Neil Gallion, with the knowledge of his supervisor, Sgt. Joe Peterson, “was the deciding factor” in the decision by Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker not to file criminal charges against the firefighter, according to the claim.

Aside from possible rape or sexual assault charges, Ross also could have been charged with possessing sexually explicit photographs of a minor – a felony.

Gallion “had earlier contact with Ms. Doe and it is believed that his prior involvement with her may have improperly influenced his investigation of this matter,” the claim states.

The girl’s boyfriend reported the crime as a rape on Feb. 10 when he called police who responded to her home in northwest Spokane before going to Fire Station No. 17 to question Ross.

The 35-year-old Ross resigned his $63,769-a-year job on March 8 after being accused of seven counts of “conduct unbecoming an officer” and violating city computer policies. He faced the likelihood of being fired after city disciplinary proceedings.

“The responsibility entrusted to Detective Gallion and Sgt. Peterson was to investigate the facts,” according to the claim. “Their improper acts violated that trust and had the effect of shielding Ross from criminal charges. The police officers functioned as judge and jury, not as investigators, and violated Ms. Doe’s rights and the public trust.”

In the claim, the attorneys said the Fire Department either knew or should have known that Ross had engaged in similar inappropriate conduct while on duty “and failed to take appropriate action to protect (Ms. Doe) and the public from a sexual predator in violation of her constitutional rights.”

Other Fire Department personnel were present in the firehouse and “ignored the fact that Ross was escorting a minor girl to areas of the station not open to the public,” according to the claim. “The city’s failure to properly supervise the conduct of its firefighters at Fire Station No. 17 results in liability on the part of the city for the sexual assault that occurred.”

The filing of the damage claim is the latest development in the five-month-old scandal that rocked City Hall, the mayor’s office and the Police and Fire departments.

It is one of several crises prompting calls for independent, citizen oversight of the Police Department.

While investigating the reported rape, the detectives “unilaterally determined the sexual contact was consensual and then ordered the destruction of the only physical evidence that was relevant and material to the matter,” the claim states.

Police have never fully explained why the boyfriend, whose identity they withheld, reported the encounter as a rape when he called 911. Senior police administrators said the pictures were deleted to “protect the victim.”

“In spite of Ms. Doe’s statements to police that she had resisted Ross’ initial attempts at sexual contact and was finally overpowered, the officers concluded that the intercourse was consensual and that no crime had occurred,” the claim states. “This premature and incorrect assumption clearly colored their judgment, resulting in an incomplete and biased investigation.”

The claim says the teenager was examined by a clinical psychologist who concluded Ms. Doe’s reaction to Ross’ advances is known as “clinical disassociation,” a recognized psychological term to describe an individual’s response in “extremely stressful situations.”

Ms. Doe thought she was in a “safe place” in the fire station, and “then did not know exactly what to do when faced with Ross’ sexual advances,” the claim states.

Newly appointed City Attorney Jim Craven wasn’t available for comment Friday afternoon.

“I haven’t seen it,” newly named city risk manager Pam Schroeder said when asked about the $1 million claim against the city.

Assistant City Attorney Rocky Treppiedi, the city’s former risk manager who is now the legal adviser to the Police Department, said the claim is without merit.

“Very emphatically I’d say there’s no evidence that any police officers were protecting a firefighter,” Treppiedi said. “In fact, the evidence shows they were not. Their focus was to protect the victim.”

The city is self-insured for such claims, with a $1 million threshold before the liability is borne by a large risk pool.

Treppiedi said criminal charges weren’t filed because the teenage girl didn’t want to press charges and faced her own “credibility issues.”

“The investigation concluded the sexual contact was consensual,” Treppiedi said.

The claim notes there “has been extensive publicity surrounding the sexual assault and the subsequent investigation into the improper destruction of evidence.”

“Ms. Doe’s name has not yet been disclosed in the media, but family members and close friends have become aware of her identity,” the claim states. “Consequently, she has not only become the target of embarrassing attention, but is dealing with the common and customary emotional trauma after being raped.”

The girl continues to receive psychological and emotional counseling “for issues directly related to this investigation and the incident,” according to the claim.


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