Negligent investigation by the Tacoma Police Department failed to protect two children who were sexually abused by a convicted sex offender their mother was dating, a lawsuit alleges.
The minors, identified in the civil action as 11-year-old M.E. and 9-year-old J.E., filed the complaint against the city Aug. 23 in Pierce County Superior Court.
It alleges, in part, that investigators missed signs of sexual abuse in the home on one occasion and should have known the mother’s boyfriend had been convicted of a prior sex crime when they talked to him on another occasion. As a result of the negligent investigation, the girls were subject to “repeated acts of sexual assault,” according to the suit;.
“TPD failed to investigate direct reports of abuse and neglect of J.E. and M.E., and in most instances — when they did bother to investigate — failed to do so with ordinary and reasonable care,” according to the lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages.
The police department declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing a policy against talking publicly about pending litigation.
An officer checked on the girls in 2011 after one of them told her father she’d taken her mom’s medicine and gotten sick, the lawsuit states.
On that visit, the officer noticed there was garbage and other items covering the floor of the children’s room, including pornography.
“The presence of pornography in the young girls’ bedroom was a red flag for potential child sexual abuse, yet this was not investigated further,” according to the lawsuit.
The officer decided the living conditions weren’t suitable for kids but didn’t remove the girls from the home.
The next year, according to the suit, the girls reported that a “ghost” had been watching them in the shower, and one of the girls suggested the ghost had to do with her mother’s boyfriend.
Police spoke with the man, and he said he had a prior conviction for battery, but, according to the lawsuit, the detective didn’t verify that with a background check.
“A reasonably prudent police officer would have done a background check and would have immediately discovered that (the mother’s boyfriend) was a convicted sex offender and child molester,” the suit says.
Instead, the investigation was closed.
One of the girls’ attorneys, Nathan Roberts, said the boyfriend’s prior sex crime was in California, where he was convicted of lewd acts with a young relative when he was a teenager.
“It would have saved these girls a lot of horror” had police discovered that at the time, Roberts said.
Another problem with the investigation, the lawsuit alleges, is that the girls were interviewed in the presence of their alleged abuser.
“This is contrary to best practices, which should be known and understood by any police officer, as children typically do not identify the perpetrators of their abuse when questioned in front of the abuser,” the complaint reads.
The boyfriend was never convicted of crimes against the girls.
He pleaded guilty in 2014 to molesting a friend’s child, and as part of that plea agreement, charges that he raped and molested M.E. were dismissed.
M.E.’s mother, who has since lost custody, was defending the boyfriend at the time, Roberts said.
Charges were never filed on behalf of J.E.
“I think she was just so young, she wasn’t able to meaningfully testify,” Roberts said of the girl.
The sisters now live with their father, Roberts said.