By Natalie Johnson / firstname.lastname@example.org
A lawsuit filed last week in King County Superior Court alleges pervasive sexual misconduct committed by female staff against male inmates at Chehalis’ Green Hill School, a juvenile corrections facility, and that the school’s administration knew, but failed to stop the abuse.
“For years, a culture of sexual misconduct existed at Green Hill School. Specifically, it was common for the female staff at Green Hill School to engage in sexually inappropriate relationships with the residents, who were routinely minors,” the lawsuit reads.“Retaliation and suppression of complaints were common. Supervision of the staff was laissez faire at best and at worst supervisory staff actively condoned the abuse and protected the abusers.”
The lawsuit names the state Department of Social and Health Services, former Green Hill Superintendent Marybeth Queral and Lori Nesmith, a former Associate Superintendent at Green Hill. The suit claims the defendants were negligent in their duty to protect the plaintiff.
The suit was filed in King County because that’s where the alleged victim now resides.
Green Hill School is a medium/maximum security facility for juvenile offenders located in Chehalis and managed by DSHS’ Juvenile Justice and Rehabilitation Administration. The facility provides educational and vocational training to older, male, juvenile offenders.
The Chronicle reached out to the state Department of Social and Health Services, but the agency declined to comment on the pending matter.
The plaintiff in the lawsuit, identified by initials C.O-H., is the victim in a criminal sexual assault case in which charges were filed in January in Lewis County Superior Court earlier this year, but he isn’t the only victim of abuse at Green Hill, said his attorney Tim Tesh of Seattle.
“The more that we talk to people, the more that we find out it was apparently very prevalent,” he told The Chronicle Wednesday.
Tesh also represents a second former Green Hill resident who has filed a tort claim against the state alleging abuse. Tesh plans to file a lawsuit on that client’s behalf when the statutory 60-day waiting period after filing a tort claim has elapsed.
“I doubt this will be the last one,” he said.
The lawsuit asks for unspecified damages to be determined at trial.
C.O-H.’s lawsuit focuses on his own alleged abuse by former Green Hill counselor Katherine M. Kimbrel, 41, of Centralia, who was charged in January in Lewis County Superior Court with first-degree sexual misconduct with a minor, first-degree custodial sexual misconduct and communication with a minor for immoral purposes.
According to court documents, she is accused of having a sexual relationship for two years with the then 16-year-old Green Hill inmate starting in 2013.
The lawsuit argues that Kimbrel began to “groom” the teen before 2013, “engaging in escalating inappropriate behavior.”
“Subsequent to this, Kimbrel used her position of power and authority to rape Plaintiff regularly,” according to the lawsuit. “This abuse continued the entire time Plaintiff was a resident of Green Hill School.”
According to court documents, the sexual relationship continued after he left the facility as well.
The charges filed against Kimbrel — first-degree sexual misconduct with a minor, first-degree custodial sexual misconduct, and immoral communication — don’t require that the sexual contact be forced. Instead the laws define sexual contact between a minor aged 16 to 18 and an adult in a “supervisory” position over that minor — such as a school employee — to be illegal.
According to court documents, three past allegations of similar behavior against Kimbrel had been investigated but were not pursued for lack of evidence.
The lawsuit claims that Green Hill and DSHS knew of the allegations but did not supervise or remove Kimbrel from her duties with minor inmates.
“The failure to properly investigate, supervise, or otherwise to adopt measures that protected Green Hill School residents resulted in the repeated abuse of Plaintiff by Resident Counselor Kimbrel.”
C.O-H. has filed a motion to be referred to in the lawsuit only by his initials, in an effort to protect his privacy as a victim of child sexual abuse, according to court documents.
Kimbrel made her first court appearance in the criminal case against her in February and has entered not-guilty pleas. Her trial is scheduled to begin in May.
This is the second former female Green Hill counselor charged for having sex with a student in the same period of time.
Former counselor Erin Stiebritz was charged in January 2016 and pleaded guilty that September to one count of first-degree custodial sexual misconduct. She was accused of having a sexual relationship with an 18-year-old inmate.
Stiebritz was sentenced to two weeks in jail and 46 days in counseling.
According to the lawsuit, C.O-H. decided to make a Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) complaint against Stiebritz in February 2015 regarding her “sexualized” behavior toward residents. The lawsuit claims that Nesmith tried to prevent him from filing the complaint and would not allow him to call the PREA complaint hotline.
That summer, he reportedly told a male staff member about abuse by Kimbrel. The male staff member “refused to submit the report,” according to the lawsuit. He reported abuse by Kimbrel to another male staff member, who also refused to forward the report, according to the suit.
“The manner in which these claims were handled by Green Hill School Staff did not change even after the criminal convictions of Green Hill School Staff for sexual abuse of the residents … dating back to at least 2009,” the lawsuit reads.
In 2009, former Green Hill cook Deanna Witters, 52 at the time, pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree custodial sexual misconduct at the school for a relationship with an inmate.
Witters gave information to investigators about sexual misconduct between inmates and at least five staff members, according to Chronicle reporting at the time.
In 2009, Queral said no employees were asked to leave due to Witters’ allegations.
“Nobody was forced to resign,” Queral said to The Chronicle in 2009. “I would never ask for someone to resign.”
Queral is now the assistant secretary of DSHS’ Rehabilitation Administration.
At the time, Lewis County Prosecutor Michael Golden told The Chronicle said he was unaware of any new charges stemming from Witters information.
The suit alleges knowledge of the sexual assaults reached both the facility’s administration and that of the Juvenile Rehabilitation department of DSHS.
“Because of this culture, which allowed and even fostered sexual abuse of residents of Green Hill School, Plaintiff and many, many other Green Hill School residents were repeatedly sexually abused while in state custody,” the complaint reads.
Tesh said he believes evidence will likely show an inappropriately sexual atmosphere existed among staff at Green Hill even when teens weren’t directly included.
“There likely were more staff involved in instances of staff on inmate or student sexual abuse as well as instances where staff had inappropriate sexual content with staff … that was witnessed by students,” he said.
Tesh said allegations of sexual misconduct are not unique to Green Hill, but said other facilities have done a better job of addressing the problem.
“This can be eliminated. It’s not a problem an institution can’t fix,” he said. “This is not rocket science.”