July 4, 2008 in City

Settlement sought in firehouse sex case

By The Spokesman-Review
 

A federal judge is being asked to order the city of Spokane to participate in a court-supervised settlement of a civil rights lawsuit brought by a teenage girl who claims she was raped and photographed by an on-duty firefighter in a North Side firehouse.

The girl, who was 16 at the time of the incident, is seeking $6 million in damages after initially filing a $1 million claim that was rejected by the city. The girl’s attorney, J. Scott Miller, filed the civil rights damages suit in U.S. District Court in December 2006.

The suit alleges the teenager was sexually assaulted at a fire station in northwest Spokane in February 2006 by firefighter Daniel W. Ross, who used a digital camera to take photos of the encounter. The 35-year-old firefighter was fired a month later.

When the incident was reported to police as a rape, two police detectives who responded told Ross to delete the photos and did not immediately seize his camera and its digital memory card as evidence. That is among the negligence claims cited in the suit.

The case was assigned to Judge Fred Van Sickle, who earlier this year suggested both sides seek mediation, arbitration or dispute-resolution discussions to reach an out-of-court settlement instead of taking the case to trial.

The senior judge asked both sides to report back to him this month.

The city, represented by Assistant City Attorney Rocky Treppiedi, filed two motions to get the suit tossed out, but then withdrew them after initial rulings by the judge. The city is expected to renew its motions to get the suit dismissed or seek summary judgment.

In one of the city’s motions, Treppiedi argued the suit should be dismissed because there is no set of facts that would allow a jury to find in favor of the plaintiffs.

“It is undisputed that defendant Ross had sexual relations with a minor child in a Spokane city fire station while he was on duty and being paid to be on-call as a firefighter,” Miller said in a response motion filed this week.

“It is also undisputed that (Ross) took photographs of the sexual assault,” the motion said, and that “city police (detectives) destroyed the digital photos that were evidence of that crime and which would have supported the plaintiffs claims in this litigation.”

In a letter filed as a court document, Treppiedi said the teenager and her attorney have filed “spurious public allegations against” the city, its fire and police departments and detectives Neil Gallion and Joe Peterson.

“The city defendants look forward to their day in court and public vindication of their position,” Treppiedi wrote.

If the city doesn’t get the suit dismissed, “the case will be tried to a jury in open court, not in private to an arbitrator,” the assistant city attorney said.

In response, Miller’s motion said the city attorney’s office was using a “hard-headed” approach and refusing to participate in good-faith settlement negotiations, operating in the belief that the city “can bully” the teenage girl “into dismissing this litigation in fear of the abuse the city intends to heap on her at trial.”

The city already “has required” the girl to undergo two neuro-psychological examinations as it prepares its defense, the document says.

“The plaintiffs respectfully request that a judicially supervised settlement conference is the best environment in which the city can seriously and in forced compliance with a duty of good faith consider the realities of the litigation,” Miller’s motion said.


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