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State Pays $1 Million to Settle Sex Claims; Jury Finds Against Juvenile Prison Chaplain

Following an eleven-day trial, a Portland, Oregon jury awarded two men $1,400,000 on claims that they were sexually abused by a chaplain at the MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility in the 1970s.

Fourteen men brought suits against Father Michael Sprauer, a Catholic priest assigned to MacLaren between 1972 and 1975, the Archdiocese of Portland, and the State of Oregon, alleging that they were molested by Sprauer.

The action brought by Randy Sloan, Robert Paul, Jr., and Norman Klettke was the first to reach trial. Sprauer and the other defendants denied that the abuse occurred. There was strong evidence that the fourteen plaintiffs—all ex-felons—conspired to fabricate the allegations. Two of the men alleged at trial that Sprauer abused them at MacLaren after he left his position there. Many state officials testified that it was simply not possible for the abuse to have occurred when, where, and how plaintiffs claimed. Nevertheless, a Multnomah County jury returned verdicts in favor of Sloan and Paul, while rejecting Klettke’s claims.

Jurors defended their verdict in The Oregonian, Oregon’s largest newspaper. Yet one juror expressed his anger and disgust with it. He accused other jurors of refusing to consider the facts, and suggested that, in the face of all the legitimate priest sex abuse cases, both locally and nationally, it was impossible for Sprauer to receive a fair trial. One juror who voted against Sprauer admitted she didn’t know if he was actually guilty, adding that she’s sorry if he’s not.

While the jury awarded Sloan and Paul $1,400,000, the award was largely symbolic because it far exceeded the state cape on damage awards against public officials. The verdict did serve, however, as the catalyst to force Sprauer and the other defendants to settle the remaining cases. To avoid an appeal of the jury’s damage award, Sloan and Paul agreed to join the other plaintiffs in a $1,050,000 out-of-court settlement.

In an odd twist, following the settlement, the State sued the Church to recover Sprauer’s $410,587 legal bill. According to the suit, the archdiocese had agreed to pay Sprauer’s legal bills but later stiffed the State.

Sprauer left MacLaren in 1975 to serve as chaplain at an Oregon Department of Corrections (ODOC) facility where he served until the mid-1990s, when he was appointed to serve as the ODOC’s Religious Services Administrator. He retired from ODOC in 2000. The claims against him surfaced 30 years after the alleged abuse.

Source: The Oregonian; The Statesman Journal.

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