high court confirms report date as key in civil suit Oregon
By WILLIAM McCALL
Associated Press writer
By RODGER NICHOLS
The Oregon Supreme Court ruled unanimously Thursday the city of
The boy was 16 at the time, but he did not disclose the abuse until 2001, after learning that another police officer was under investigation for serving alcohol to a minor.
The victim was then called to testify at a grand jury hearing on the officer who abused him, James Tannehill, and realized he had a claim against the city.
Kelly Clark, attorney for the victim, said the ruling “closes one of the loopholes where the government goes to hide when a government employee abuses a kid.”
“If you have a government coverup, the clock begins to run when you discover the government had a role in the abuse,”
The victim, identified only as “T.R.,” filed a negligence and sexual battery claim against
The city argued the two-year statute of limitations had already expired because the abuse occurred in 1996, but a trial judge rejected the argument.
A civil court agreed, awarding $81,260 in damages under the federal civil rights law and a supplemental judgment awarding plaintiff $261,701.92 in costs and attorney fees.
The Oregon Court of Appeals, however, ruled in 2006 in favor of the city, concluding that “at the time of the abuse itself, plaintiff had sufficient information” to determine he had a claim against the city.
The Oregon Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and sent the case back to that court for reconsideration.
In an opinion by Justice Martha L. Walters, the Supreme Court ruled the question about the sexual abuse claim should have gone to a jury to decide.
The court noted the Explorer Scout program in
The Boy Scouts had advised the city about its policies and procedures to prevent child sexual abuse, the court said, but the city delegated the authority to run the program to Tannehill without training him for the position and also failed to create a required oversight committee.
The victim was 16 and living in foster care when Tannehill approached him and suggested he enroll in the Explorer program. After regularly spending time alone with the victim, on and off duty, and serving him alcohol, Tannehill abused the teen, the court said.
The court said the teen was confused and asked two other city police officers about Tannehill serving him alcohol and whether he had an interest in boys. “One just laughed, the other told him he didn’t want to talk about it,” Walters wrote.
The victim broke off contact, graduated early from high school and joined the Army. He was 22 when his grandmother read him a newspaper article that reported the Oregon State Police had charged another police officer in
The victim contacted state police investigators, told them about the abuse by Tannehill, and was called before a grand jury, where he “suspected for the first time that department members, and perhaps even command staff, may have permitted the sexual abuse that Tannehill had committed and failed to protect Explorers, including himself, against such abuse,” Walters wrote.
The court said the indifference shown by the two fellow officers the victim questioned about Tannehill “discouraged any further inquiry.”
The court also noted the victim did not discover until later that prosecutors and state police suspected the problem was more widespread than a single officer and that the city may have failed in its duty to protect him and other Explorer Scout members.
As a result, the Supreme Court ruled that a jury could have found the victim had filed his federal civil rights claim in a timely manner, and the trial judge correctly rejected the city’s argument the statute of limitations had run.
Tannehill, a sergeant, and another officer, Lance Kirk, were convicted in 2001 of abusing boys.
The Dalles City Attorney Gene Parker said Friday morning that the city had received a fax late Thursday from attorney Robert Franz outlining the Supreme Court decision. Franz represented Northland Insurance Company through the trial and appeal process. Northland represented the city at the time the incident occurred.
“I’ll probably need to talk to Mr. Franz and find out what can be the next step,” Parker said, “whether there’s going to be any further attempts to consider any further appeals, or if the judgment now just stands. I would assume at this point that if the judgment stands, we would be covered by our insurance policy and they would end up paying a judgment.”