Ex-Tacoma principal Harold Wright loses appeal in suit against Pierce County

Former Baker Middle School principal Harold Wright Jr.
Former Baker Middle School principal Harold Wright Jr. Staff file

A former Tacoma middle school teacher once charged with rape has lost another round in his long-running litigation against Pierce County for wrongful prosecution.

The Washington State Court of Appeals for Division I, in a decision announced Monday, upheld a lower court ruling that dismissed Harold Wright Jr.’s personal-injury lawsuit against Pierce County.

The appellate panel said King County Superior Court Judge Theresa Doyle was right to throw Wright’s lawsuit out of court without a trial in 2013.

In a 3-0 decision written by Division I judge Mary Kay Becker, the appellate panel said Wright’s claims of malicious prosecution, defamation, destruction of evidence and other wrongdoing could not overcome the immunity from lawsuits enjoyed by prosecutors engaged in their jobs.

The panel also ruled that Doyle’s other reasoning for throwing out the suit was sound, including a finding that “Wright’s claims lack a factual basis” and were beyond the statute of limitations.

A federal judge previously ruled in the county’s favor when the case was in U.S. District Court.

Wright sued the county in 2011, contending the criminal case against him was racially motivated and that prosecutors committed misconduct by withholding evidence and tampering with a witness, among other things.

Pierce County prosecutors charged Wright and three other men with second-degree rape in 2007, alleging they sexually assaulted a 19-year-old woman they’d met at a bar.

The case against two of the men was later dismissed, but Wright and another co-defendant went to trial.

Wright, the former principal of Baker Middle School, denied attacking the woman, and his co-defendant admitted having sex with her but said it was consensual.

A jury convicted them of the lesser charge of third-degree rape, but the Court of Appeals later overturned the convictions and sent the case back to Pierce County.

Prosecutors initially refiled the second-degree rape charges but later dismissed them, deciding that the evidence was too shaky to move forward.

County attorneys argued in the civil matter that prosecutors acted appropriately.