Washington State agreed to pay $16.95 million total to a dozen former residents of the J Bar D Boys Ranch, who were sexually and physically abused while at the ranch after being placed there by the state.
The case settled Tuesday before closing arguments in a more than four-week civil trial in Thurston County.
The settlement comes nearly a year after Terry Vanbuskirk, another former resident, received a $1.5 million settlement from the Department of Children, Youth and Families.
Child welfare officials “knew or should have known for some years that the children placed at J Bar D were subjected to sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, physical and emotional abuse, gross indifference and neglect, and deprivation of the most basic human and social services, including the failure to provide necessary counseling, love, affection, and spiritual and personal guidance, such as constituted their most basic personal and human right,” according to the lawsuit.
The boys ranged in age from 10 to 15 years old during their time at the ranch from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, according to attorney Darrell Cochran, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs. He is with Tacoma law firm Pfau, Cochran, Vertetis, Amala, which has litigated dozens of similar historical abuse cases for victims.
The ranch was the subject of numerous complaints that were not taken seriously until then-Pend Oreille County Sheriff Tony Bamonte reached out to the governor’s office and asked them to investigate in 1981.
The contracts for group housing for J Bar D and its affiliate Reynolds Creek Boys Ranch near Cusick, Washington, were revoked in December 1984 after a judge’s special inquiry found widespread abuse and substandard care. Following the inquiry, the company that owned the ranches went out of business.
“The J Bar D case marks one of the darkest chapters in State social work history. Children were repeatedly raped, cattle prodded, dragged behind horses and other terrors,” Cochran said. “They were threatened if they spoke out. And those who were supposed to be watching over them were instead destroying their lives.”
A slew of new details about the abuse came out at trial, Cochran said.
Former Department of Social and Health Services regional administrator Roy Harrington, who was appointed to investigate the J Bar D Ranch in 1984, provided some of the most damning testimony, Cochran said.
“It ran contrary to everything an agency responsible for children should be paying attention to,” Harrington testified. “It was unbelievable to me that something would have gone this far without the agency taking the action they should have taken immediately.”
The Department of Children, Youth and Families argued in similar cases that the negligence and emotional distress were committed by the operators of the camp, not the state that provided a license for the camp to operate, according to court records. The department was created by state law in 2017 and oversees Child Protective Services, among other services.
The department did not immediately respond to request for comment but has previously told The Spokesman-Review it does not comment on “pending litigation and continuing legal processes.”
Cochran and his team have several other pending lawsuits against the state for other victims of the J Bar D Boys Ranch.
“Anytime we have an atrocity of the magnitude of what we had at J Bar D Ranch, we know that if we conceal it, ignore it and don’t take lessons from it, that history will repeat itself,” Cochran said. “We must do everything in our collective powers to make sure that doesn’t happen to any more boys.”