By LEVI PULKKINEN | The Seattle PI
A former inmate at Echo Glen Children’s School claims the state failed to stop the guard who sexually assaulted her.
The lawsuit comes just days after the youth rehabilitation center settled a separate sexual harassment complaint filed by a former employee.
In court documents, the young woman’s attorney argues that Echo Glen staff had been warned that Robert Heath Fox had an inappropriate interest in girls housed at the Snoqualmie center weeks before he sexually assaulted the 19-year-old. The department’s inaction, attorney Jack Connelly said, paved the way for the attack that derailed the young woman’s recovery.
“She had overcome a number of issues such as trusting authority, self-esteem and self-confidence,” Connelly said in court documents. “All of this was destroyed.”
In February, Fox, 39, pleaded guilty to first-degree custodial sexual misconduct charges following allegations that he forced himself on the young woman confined at Echo Glen. At the time of the assault, Fox was a part-time security officer charged with monitoring children and teens housed there.
According to court documents, Fox had turned his attention toward several girls at Echo Glen in the weeks leading to the assault and was caught on one occasion taking photos of two girls as they roughhoused in an office there. The young woman who he later assaulted told authorities Fox had attempted to watch a movie alone with her days before the incident, and that she had become concerned about the attention he was showing her.
The night of the assault, according to police reports, Fox went to the girl’s room as she slept, woke her to offer her an energy drink, then left. He returned a short time later and sexually assaulted her.
Confronted the following morning by another resident who’d heard her crying in the night, the young woman recounted Fox’s assault on her. The other resident reported the assault to Echo Glen staff, who summoned King County sheriff’s deputies.
Following a guilty plea, Fox was sentenced to eight months in King County Jail, a term he is currently serving.
Now, in a lawsuit filed late last month in King County Superior Court, the young woman is claiming the Department of Social and Health Services knew Fox posed a threat to young woman and girls at Echo Glen but failed to act.
“Prior to the incident, (department managers) were made aware that Fox had previously made unwanted advances toward female inmates and employees, but took no action to stop this behavior,” Connelly alleged in court documents.
That inaction, the Tacoma attorney added, “resulted in these horrific acts of violence that shattered (the young woman’s) dreams, hopes and aspirations for life.”
Contacted for comment, Assistant Attorney General Kate Battuello, who is representing the department in the action, said the state has yet to file a formal response. Battuello noted that the department took swift action against Fox and reported the assault as soon as allegations were brought to light.
“No one is contesting that this very unfortunate event occurred,” Battuello said Thursday. “I would say that Echo Glen acted immediately to make sure he would never come back again.”
“It’s my hope,” she added, “that the parties will act quickly and cooperatively … toward an early resolution”
The recent action follows two sexual harassment suits filed against Echo Glen in which former employees describe a sexually charged atmosphere among staff at the facility.
In one case filed last year, a woman asserted in court documents a security manager began asking her sexually explicit questions shortly after she was hired in 2007. That behavior, the woman alleged, set the tone for the department.
“Male security officers openly flirted and made sexual comments about female employees, with no, or virtually no, repercussions,” attorney Toni Castaneda said in court documents. “While some female employees at Echo Glen welcomed the sexual comments and advances by male employees, others were fearful of complaining about such conduct for fear of reprisal.”
In the suit — for which the state paid $30,000 in late July to settle — the former guard went on to allege that the security manager suggested she would be provided a desired position in exchange for sex. Concerned by her manager’s comments, the woman and another female security officer repeatedly complained to the facility’s superintendent.
Addressing the complaint against the security manager, Battuello said the department notified the State Patrol after the allegations surfaced.
“When she brought her concerns forward, they were investigated and Echo Glenn took immediate action,” Battuello said.
The security manager was terminated following the investigation’s conclusion, Battuello said.
The second harassment complaint remains pending in King County Superior Court.
In separate suit, former guard says she was offered better hours for sex
Friday, August 14, 2009
Last updated August 18, 2009 9:48 a.m. PT