May 25, 2007
Plaintiff alleges sex abuse during his stay there in the 1970s
A Salem man has filed a $5 million lawsuit against the Children’s Farm Home and its parent Trillium Family Services, claiming he was sexually abused as a child there in the late 1970s.
The suit alleges former Farm Home Executive Director William "Hank" Dufort abused the plaintiff, who is now 45, countless times over a three-year period. As a sex-abuse victim, the plaintiff is not named in the complaint, filed Tuesday in Multnomah County Circuit Court.
Dufort was tried in 1990 and convicted of multiple counts of sex abuse, sodomy and contributing to the delinquency of a minor for abusing six boys who had been clients at the Farm Home. He is serving a 48-year prison sentence in the Snake River Correctional Facility for those crimes.
The suit does not name Dufort. According to the plaintiff’s attorney, Kelly Clark, the Children’s Farm Home was responsible for monitoring the actions of its employees.
"We would be asking a jury to find that it was the Farm Home that had the best opportunity to prevent (the abuse)," Clark said.
Derenda Schubert, chief external affairs officer of Trillium Family Services, said she learned of the lawsuit from the Gazette-Times and would look into the matter and respond at the appropriate time.
"My client has got a lifetime of wreckage," Clark said. "He is a sweet man, not sophisticated, and came from a horrible home situation."
Clark said his client, like many child sex-abuse victims, delayed for a long time before disclosing what happened to him. Many victims have what Clark called an "aha moment" or a triggering event that leads them to finally tell someone what happened. In his client’s case, Clark said the trigger was reading about cases of child sex abuse by Catholic priests.
At least 15 civil suits were filed by Dufort’s victims in the early 1990s, most of which were settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. Those suits named Dufort, the Children’s Farm Home and the State of Oregon’s Children’s Services Division, now known as Child Protective Services, which placed children in the Farm Home in the 1980s.
Dufort had his first meeting with the Oregon Board of Parole on March 7. During that meeting, he denied abusing the six boys who testified against him at trial, but admitted to abusing more than two dozen other boys in the years before he became executive director of the Farm Home. Many of those victims have never been identified.
"He was one of the silent others," Clark said of his client.
Clark said his client was abused during the three years he spent at the home in 1977 to 1979. His client was not interviewed by investigators at the time of the criminal proceedings in 1990, because the statute of limitations on crimes committed during the 1970s had long run out.
A press release issued by Clark’s firm claims that "The Farm Home abuse pattern often involved boys speaking out and making allegations of abuse to other staff members," and that those allegations went straight to Dufort as executive director, and no further.
But Karen Zorn, then a Benton County deputy district attorney who prosecuted Dufort, said during a recent interview that none of the boys who testified against him at trial had ever told anyone at the Farm Home that they were abused.
"Boys don’t tell," said Scott Fels, then a Benton County sheriff’s deputy and a lead investigator on the case.
Nevertheless, when investigators began to question staff members about Dufort’s behavior, they began to see how Dufort had managed to avoid being caught for so long. They cited his practice of visiting boys alone in their rooms early in the morning, his giving them backrubs and favoring certain boys.
"That’s when the whole incredible dysfunction of the Farm Home became clearly obvious very quickly," Zorn said.
The $5 million figure requested in the suit would be for compensatory damages, Clark said, for suffering, loss of ability to earn a living, and therapy.
"My client continues in counseling," Clark said.
Trillium Family Services has 30 days after being served with the suit to reply. After that, both sides will have the opportunity to depose witnesses, including Dufort, and conduct further investigations concerning the case.