November 11, 2008 in City

Ross charges were delayed

Case bounced between city, county prosecutors
By The Spokesman-Review
 
The Spokesman-Review photo

Ross
(Full-size photo)

A Spokane firefighter fired for having sex with a 16-year-old girl in a city firehouse in 2006 is believed to have engaged in similar conduct with another teenage girl 19 months later, but it took investigators and prosecutors almost a year to investigate and bring criminal charges.

Daniel W. Ross is now charged with fourth-degree assault with sexual motivation, and could face up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine if convicted.

He is accused of molesting a 16-year-old girl after buying her new bras and asking her to model them for him inside his South Hill home – a state-licensed care facility at the time.

The charge involving the second 16-year-old girl was filed on Oct. 3 – a month after Assistant City Attorney Rocky Treppiedi successfully got the city dismissed from a damages suit stemming from the 2006 firehouse incident involving the first teenage girl.

The 38-year-old ex-firefighter is scheduled to appear in court Dec. 10.

Court documents say a sheriff detective’s investigation was completed a year ago and recommended the immediate filing of the criminal charge against Ross.

But for 11 months, the case bounced between the county prosecutor’s office and the office of then-city prosecutor Howard Delaney, with nothing being done. Even investigating detective David Skogen began asking questions about his languishing case, public records show.

The sexual assault is alleged to have occurred on Aug. 25, 2007, in the state-licensed adult care home at 3521 S. High Drive operated by Ross and his wife, Colleen.

Even though criminal charges weren’t filed at the time, the state used the incident as the reason to revoke the adult home license in July – three months before the criminal charge was brought against Ross.

In her pending civil rights suit seeking $6 million, 16-year-old “Jane Doe” claims she was raped by Ross while he was on duty at Fire Station No. 17 in northwest Spokane on Feb. 10, 2006. Ross has said that encounter was consensual and he didn’t know the victim’s true age.

On Sept. 5, Senior U.S. District Court Judge Fred Van Sickle granted Treppiedi’s request seeking dismissal of the city and its police and fire departments from the lawsuit.

Also dismissed from the suit were two police detectives who ordered Ross to delete digital pictures he took while engaging in sex acts with the teenager in the fire station. Because the evidence of an alleged crime was destroyed, Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker said he couldn’t bring criminal charges.

Only Ross remained a defendant in the civil suit under Van Sickle’s dismissal order.

The federal judge refused on Oct. 16 to reconsider his dismissal order after the second alleged sexual assault involving Ross was brought to the court’s attention in additional filings.

An appeal of the judge’s ruling was filed Monday by J. Scott Miller, the attorney representing the teenage girl in the firehouse case. In court filings, Miller alleged the city prosecutor’s office sat on the second criminal case for nine months after it was passed from the Spokane Police Department to the Sheriff’s Office for investigation.

“He is a sexual predator and your office has been refusing to prosecute him for a crime that the sheriff’s office referred to you,” attorney Miller said in Sept. 4 e-mail exchanges with Treppiedi, who defends the city and its police department. The e-mails were filed as public records.

“Stop making ridiculous accusations,” Treppiedi responded. He said the city did not investigate the new criminal allegations against Ross and does not represent him in the civil suit.

But in an e-mail the following day, Treppiedi acknowledged that the sheriff detective’s report of the second incident involving Ross, completed in November 2007, was forwarded to the city prosecutor’s office before being referred back to the county prosecutor.

Spokane County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Brian O’Brien said he was at a loss to explain the delay in filing the charge, and acknowledged it was longer than normal. He said he told city prosecutors they should be handling the case.

“It’s a city case that occurred in the city, and they could charge it under assault statutes,” O’Brien said.

“It’s irritating that the people of Spokane County are going to have to pay for something that should be prosecuted in the city court,” O’Brien said.

“When it came to my attention that nobody was doing anything about it, I decided to do something about it,” he said. He filed the charge two weeks after The Spokesman-Review filed a public records request with the prosecutor’s office, seeking details of the investigation.

The Spokane Police Department released its records of the case last week.

While briefly living with the ex-firefighter and his wife in summer 2007, the teenage girl accompanied Ross to a downtown store where he bought her new bras, the public documents say.

Back at his South Hill home, Ross asked the teen to try on the bras before fondling her breasts, then straddling her on a bed while giving her a massage, the charging documents allege.

The girl later told her mother and a friend, who told a school counselor. The counselor immediately reported the alleged sexual assault to Child Protective Services. An employee called Spokane Police Department on Oct. 18, 2007.

The public records don’t say if the victim and the other witnesses were given any explanation for the delay in bringing criminal charges.

Teresa Fuller, a spokeswoman for the police department, said senior Spokane Police commanders made the decision to have the sheriff’s office investigate the case because the city, at the time, was a co-defendant with Ross in the pending civil rights lawsuit.

Ross initially indicated he would answer questions, but he failed to show up for a meeting with the sheriff’s detective, the records show.

Bill Morlin can be reached at (509) 459-5444 or e-mail: billm@spokesman.com

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