City reaches settlement in case against police, DHS

Of the News-Register The McMinnville City Council authorized the city manager last week to carry out a settlement in the case of a young survivor of sexual abuse who sued the city and state for what her lawsuit described as their failure to protect her from her sexually abusive father.

Councilors approved the settlement after discussing the matter in executive session.

QM, a pseudonym for the survivor, sued the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) and the McMinnville Police Department through a guardian ad litem in 2018. The lawsuit sought $3.35 million in damages.

The settlement amount is $825,000, Steve Kraemer, the attorney retained by the city’s insurance carrier, said in an email Wednesday. The state will pay

$475,000 and the city, through its insurance, will pay $350,000, Kraemer said.

A conservatorship was established to manage the money on behalf of the child, said Travis Mayor, one of QM’s lawyers.

In 2018, QM’s father pleaded guilty to sexual abuse and sodomy in the first degree and two counts of encouraging child sexual abuse in the first degree and is serving 10 years in prison. The child was 9 at the time of the crimes her father pleaded guilty to; however, allegations of abuse were first reported many years earlier.

In 2009, QM’s mother reported to DHS and the police her concern that QM’s father had or would sexually abuse the child. She later made other complaints to DHS about the danger the father posed to his daughter. QM was around two years old at the time.

The News-Register is not identifying the child and her parents to protect the identity of the victim.

DHS was “unable to deter- mine” if the father had abused the child, according to a 2020 lawsuit the state filed against QM’s mother.

In that lawsuit, which was filed but never served to the mother, the state and city argued she was negligent in caring for her daughter and should help pay the $3.35 million to QM. The state and city had previously tried unsuccessfully to file a third-party complaint against QM’s mother in the original lawsuit, according to court records.

The state and city didn’t serve the lawsuit to QM’s mother because the mediation at which the case was settled occurred soon after filing it, Kraemer said. Part of the settlement is that the state’s lawsuit will be dismissed, Mayor said.

The state’s lawsuit against QM’s mother faulted her for, among other things, allegedly not upholding a no-contact order between QM and her father and not reporting her concerns in a timely fashion.

Mayor described the lawsuit against QM’s mother as a tactic to deflect from the state’s own negligence. In his opinion, Oregon law precludes blaming the mother, as he said her behavior did not
meet the “palpably unreasonable” or “grossly negligent” standard.

“It was QM’s mom who was the one…raising a red flag and blowing a whistle and trying to alert the state and the City of McMinnville Police Department, and to turn around and blame her for what happened is offensive, in my view,” Mayor said Wednesday.

In 2011, the police learned through a then-girlfriend of the father that he had child pornography on his computer and that he had admitted to abusing QM, according to records. McMinnville Police obtained the computer but said the department lacked probable cause for a search warrant because the computer had been handled by people besides the father, according to the state’s lawsuit.

McMinnville Police Chief Matt Scales did not reply to a request for comment.

QM’s mother asked why police would not further investigate those claims. DHS closed the matter after the girlfriend recanted her report, following an allegation by the father that she broke into his car and stole his computer. No more complaints were made against QM’s father, the state’s lawsuit said.

Around that time, the mother was awarded sole custody of the child. According to the state’s suit, the mother told the court she wanted QM to have some relationship with the father, if he could control his drug use. The father had been cited and charged multiple times for various misdemeanors in years prior to the custody hearing. The state alleges the mother failed to tell the family court about previous suspected sexual abuse, and the father was awarded graduated parenting time.

In 2017, QM told her mother her father had sexually abused her since 2016, which her mother reported to DHS, leading to the arrest of the father. He was initially charged with five counts of first degree sexual abuse, two counts of first degree sodomy and two counts of attempt to commit a Class A felony.

During an investigation, the police in Salem, where QM’s father lived at the time, obtained a search warrant for the computer in the McMin nville Police Department’s possession, which contained around 1,300 pictures of young girls, the lawsuit said.

Additional charges of encouraging child sexual abuse were added to the case. “I hope this lawsuit makes the City of McMinnville Police Department take this really seriously the next time someone makes a com- plaint,” Mayor said. “DHS and police officers are mandatory reporters, and they have to investigate, and they can’t just do a cursory investigation. They have to do a reasonable investigation, and they had opportunities here to do a reasonable investigation, which in our view probably would’ve stopped this from happening.”

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