Bethel district, school face lawsuit after teen entered felon’s home

Staff writerAugust 18, 2013 

The parents of a teenage girl who wound up in the apartment of a convicted felon after walking away from her Tacoma school last year are suing the school and the Bethel School District for damages.

The couple contend the girl was held against her will and sexually molested after she left the Northwest School of Innovative Learning on March 19, 2012.

The News Tribune is not publishing the names of the plaintiffs to protect the identity of their daughter, a minor who has been diagnosed with a number of psychiatric disorders.

They seek unspecified damages for pain and suffering and other damages they claim they and their daughter suffered. The lawsuit was filed on their behalf last week in Pierce County Superior Court by attorney Thomas Vertetis.

Attempts to obtain comment from the Northwest School and its parent organizations, Fairfax Hospital Behavioral Health Services and Universal Health Services, were unsuccessful last week.

Bethel spokeswoman Krista Carlson said the district had not yet been served with the lawsuit so it would have no comment.

The parents contend Northwest School, Fairfax Hospital, Universal Health Services and Bethel were negligent in letting the girl wander away from the school after she got into a spat with another student on a school bus that day.

The girl, now 16, lived in the Bethel School District at the time but attended the Northwest School in Tacoma under a special arrangement. Bethel was responsible for providing the girl with transportation between her home and the Northwest School, the lawsuit states.

The girl’s parents say Northwest School, an alternative school geared to help students who have problems in traditional school settings, ignored a plan established ahead of time for getting help for their daughter should she become upset.

That plan included contacting her parents or Catholic Community Services to make sure she got home after school. The girl has a history of running away when agitated or overly stimulated, the lawsuit states.

She did become upset after trading insults with another student on the bus then walked off despite the bus driver’s warnings that she shouldn’t, the lawsuit states. Her safety plan was never implemented, the plaintiffs allege.

“(The girl) was allowed to walk off the bus and onto the streets of downtown Tacoma without supervision,” their lawsuit states. “(The girl) attempted to catch a transit bus home to Spanaway, but (she) was lured off the public streets and into the residence of a convicted felon.”

That man later was charged with third-degree child molestation, unlawful imprisonment and resisting arrest. Pierce County prosecutors wrote in charging documents that he promised to give the girl marijuana and alcohol and touched her sexually. At one point, the girl took the man’s phone and escaped his apartment, court records show.

He maintained his innocence but pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of communicating with a minor for immoral purposes and was sentenced to two years’ probation, the records show.

Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644

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