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Lawsuit alleging abuse settled

Tue., July 31, 2012

Tribal school student to get share of $112,500

Attorneys for a North Idaho girl have agreed to settle a civil suit alleging she was molested by a man who worked as substance abuse counselor and coach at the Paschal Sherman Indian School, which is operated in Omak, Wash., by the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.

The suit was filed last year relating to an incident in November 2008, when the girl was attending the school and staying in an on-campus dormitory. The suit names Clinton J. Nicholson, who was 44 at the time. He no longer works at the school, according to his attorney, Mark Carroll.

Since the school was operating under a grant through the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, two assistant U.S. attorneys defended the school, and taxpayers will cover the settlement amount of $112,500, according to court records.

The case started in 2008 when the girl, who was 12 at the time, was sent to attend the school in Omak by her mother, who lived in Coeur d’Alene, “to receive an education that respected her daughter’s Colville heritage,” the suit states.

The youth became the football team’s water girl and soon attracted the attention of Nicholson, who helped coach the team, according to the suit.

The alleged molestation occurred during a Nov. 6, 2008, outing after Nicholson asked the girl to baby-sit his 7-year-old daughter and improperly checked her out of the school’s dormitory, documents show. She later claimed she was assaulted during a ride on an ATV. The girl told her mother, who pulled her out of the school and told school officials about the alleged incident.

Nicholson was investigated and convicted of indecent liberties in Colville Tribal Court, but the conviction was dismissed on a technicality after his attorney learned that the recording device used by the court during the trial failed to capture some of the testimony.

The separate civil case was filed in U.S. District Court in Spokane.

The school “fired Nicholson due to his pending child molestation trial,” the girl’s attorneys wrote. “Consequently, the football team no longer had a coach and had to forfeit the football season. The former football players and other students harassed (the girl) because they blamed her for the premature end of their football season.”

The school’s superintendent, Debbie Simpson, could not be reached Monday afternoon.

As part of the settlement, which is awaiting final approval by U.S. District Court Judge Justin Quackenbush, $62,000 would be put into a restricted bank account that the girl can access only after she turns 18. Another $6,500 will go to her mother, and the girl’s attorneys will receive the remainder.

The case was defended by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Timothy Durkin and Rudy Verschoor. Durkin previously asked the judge in court records to dismiss the case because the alleged conduct occurred off campus on property owned by Nicholson.

“However, as in any litigation, the United States Department of Interior recognized that there are risks attendant to going to trial,” Durkin said. “And the settlement … provided a reasonable resolution to avoid those risks.”

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