A Spokane man molested in the 1970s after being placed as a foster child in the home of a convicted child molester will be paid $1.7 million by the state Department of Social and Health Services as part of a settlement that avoids a civil trial that was to begin Monday.
Attorneys informed Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen that they reached the settlement Sunday night, which avoided a civil trial scheduled to last five weeks.
As part of the agreement, DSHS will pay 47-year-old Michael Phillip Smith $1.7 million. DSHS also will pay $65,000 to Smith’s brother, 45-year-old Matthew Smith, who also alleged that he had been molested by the same man. The cases had been joined, according to court records.
Michael Smith was placed in the care of Gerald “Jerry” Duane Allen, then a 40-year-old truck driver. About 15 years earlier, Allen had been convicted of molesting an 11-year-old boy. Two years later, in 1963, Allen pleaded guilty to two counts of indecent liberties with a 10-year-old boy, according to court records.
The boys’ mother was a struggling single parent, and state officials intervened, placing Michael and Matthew in foster care. Michael ended up at Morning Star Boys’ Ranch in Spokane and later, at age 13, was placed in the care of Allen, with the approval of two probation officers, a judge and the consent of Spokane County’s juvenile court system.
As soon as he was placed in Allen’s care in 1976, Smith said Allen would routinely bind, sodomize and gang-rape him.
On several occasions, Allen – who died in 1993 – placed the boy in the trunk of his car, drove him to a remote hotel and watched as other men sexually abused him, Smith told The Spokesman-Review in a 2006 interview.
Smith also said he remembers being placed in a closet following a prolonged sexual assault. One of the men opened the closet door and pointed a shotgun in his face and pulled the trigger. The gun’s chamber wasn’t loaded.
“I was riding down the blunt edge of a razor blade,” Smith said in the earlier interview. “If I would have advertised what was happening to me, (Allen) would have flipped it over and cut me in half.”
Matthew Smith was placed in a home eight blocks away, his attorney, Joe Blumel, said. Often Matthew would visit Michael “and there was some molestation that took place,” Blumel said. “But … (Michael) was horribly brutalized by Jerry Allen.”
Blumel said the state has a quirk in the law that prevents attorneys from seeking damages if their client wasn’t a foster child placed with a foster parent. In this case, that allowed Michael Smith to pursue damages but left it legally improbable for Matthew to seek similar damages, he said.
But Matthew Smith’s case was strengthened when Eitzen ruled that it should have been foreseeable by the state that Matthew would visit Michael in Allen’s home because Matthew lived only eight blocks away.
Morning Star officials originally were included in the suit but were severed from the case by Judge Eitzen a couple weeks ago after evidence suggested that the placement most likely occurred as a result of actions by the state, Blumel said.
Michael Smith could not immediately be reached Monday for comment. Carl Warring, the assistant attorney general representing DSHS, did not immediately respond to a request for an interview.
Matthew still “has issues relating to this, but Matt has done very well with his life,” Blumel said. “He doesn’t have the same issues as Michael. He’s been more affected.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.