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Judge: Sex abuse lawsuit against Monroe schools, state can go forward

By Jake Goldstein-Street, The Herald Net

MONROE — A lawsuit alleging state and Monroe School District officials failed to step in amid sexual abuse of a student can go forward, a judge ruled Thursday.

In the early 2000s, former Monroe police Sgt. Carlos Martinez and the student met in a Monroe school’s drug-abuse resistance education program. Martinez was an instructor for the program known as DARE.

Eventually, he hired her as a babysitter for his two kids, according to the lawsuit filed in 2019. He earned her trust.

But while she showered in his bathroom, he videotaped her. He was also accused of grooming the girl and molesting her. Martinez contended sexual contact didn’t begin until she turned 18.

In 2011, the victim reported Martinez’s behavior to law enforcement in Texas. Four years later, a Snohomish County Superior Court jury convicted Martinez of felony sex crimes. A judge sentenced him to 14 months in prison. In 2018, an appellate court denied his appeal.

The complaint alleged a state Department of Health and Social Services employee failed to report the abuse due to her own romantic relationship with Martinez. The employee had expressed concern about how much time Martinez and the girl spent together. She also questioned the girl about the sexual abuse. The victim didn’t deny it, according to court papers.

Years later, the state employee told investigators she “had a feeling that something was going on that was not right,” court documents show.

Under state law, when a Department of Health and Social Services staffer “has reasonable cause to believe that a child has suffered abuse or neglect, he or she shall report such incident, or cause a report to be made, to the proper law enforcement agency or to the department.”

And when the student reported Martinez’s behavior to school district staff, they didn’t take her seriously or investigate, according to the lawsuit. A guidance counselor reportedly told the victim “if you cry wolf so many times, no one will believe you.”

These actions allowed the abuse to continue, the complaint stated.

“It feels like Carlos’s abuse stole my childhood and young adult life away from me, and it still impacts me to this day,” the victim, now a law enforcement officer for the National Park Service, wrote in court documents last month.

The civil case largely sat idle since its filing in March 2019. But this month, the state asked a judge to dismiss the claim it was negligent in handling the allegations.

In court documents, Assistant Attorney General Gorry Sra argued the state employee’s interactions with the victim were not “within the scope of her employment,” so her employer should not be liable.

The victim’s attorney, Ray Dearie, said the staffer met with the Monroe school counselor during work hours to discuss Martinez’s abuse of the victim. The counselor then “immediately went off on Carlos, saying that she didn’t trust him, didn’t think he belonged around teenage girls, that he was not what he presented himself to be, and he’s got everybody fooled,” the state employee testified in a deposition.

“They both dropped the ball,” Dearie said in court Thursday. “The system failed my client … This was when everything else could’ve been avoided if they’d done their job.”

Sra also claimed the statute of limitations on the woman’s claims had expired. State law says a civil claim regarding childhood sexual abuse must be brought within three years of the victim making the connection between the abuse and the injury.

Dearie countered the state’s argument, saying his client still doesn’t understand the full extent of the injuries stemming from the abuse.

On Thursday, Superior Court Judge Cindy Larsen denied the state’s requests. However, she noted the arguments about the state’s liability are “fairly tenuous.”

“But I think at this time, there are sufficient reasonable inferences about what happened in the interactions between (the guidance counselor and the state employee) to leave this to the jury to decide,” Larsen said.

A trial is set for September.

Published in the Herald Net, February 9, 2023

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