$805,000 Paid by Washington to Former Detainees at Juvenile Camp, But Sex Abuse Charges Dropped against Counselor
Between May and July 2021, the state of Washington paid a total of $805,000 to settle a quartet of sexual abuse claims brought by former detainees at the state’s Naselle Youth Camp. However, criminal charges were dropped against their alleged abuser, a former counselor at the camp, for lack of cooperation from the victims, who were apparently fearful of saying anything in court that might jeopardize their payouts.
The first of the four, a 17-year-old identified as T.H., had been at the camp just under a year in March 2018 when the counselor, Michael Nolan, 40, allegedly began taking him to a secluded creek, where the two went skinny dipping and the counselor openly ogled the teen’s genitalia. This reportedly continued until October of that year.
Two months into that purported abuse, in May 2018, Nolan allegedly repeated the pattern with a second victim, identified as 16-year-old L.W., who said the counselor also used a Native-American style “sweat lodge” ritual as a pretext to get him to strip down to his underwear and touch his exposed skin. This reportedly continued until the winter of 2019.
In the spring of 2019, Nolan allegedly victimized a third juvenile, another 16-year-old identified as I.T., again using sweat lodge ceremonies and skinny-dipping excursions.
Aided by attorney Tiffany Cartwright of MacDonald Hoague & Bayless in Seattle, a fourth alleged victim, Josiah Lindsey, then filed suit in federal court for the Western District of Washington in January 2020. He was not a minor—the state holds youths aged 16 to 25 at the camp—but like the three boys, Lindsey alleged that Noland pressured him to go skinny-dipping and engage in sweat lodge rituals from February to August 2018. When Lindsey began to rebuff these advances, Nolan abruptly dropped Lindsey from his social work caseload. Lindsey’s suit also accused Nolan’s supervisor, John Gjovik, of failing to exercise proper supervision.
That suit was apparently enough to get the Pacific County Sheriff’s Office to open an investigation in January 2020. Nolan was fired from the camp on May 11, 2020, and Cartwright filed state tort claims on behalf of the three minor victims in October of that year.
Nolan was finally arrested for the alleged abuse of the detainees on January 26, 2021. Because three of the victims were under 18 at the time of the events, he was charged with multiple counts of sexual exploitation of a minor.
None of the plaintiffs cooperated with prosecutors, however. Nor did they sit for interviews requested in the criminal case by the defendant’s lawyer, Wayne C. Fricke. Pacific County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Tracey Munger said her office “could not get the state, who has the tort claim to work with, to get their client to cooperate.”
The victims were no doubt afraid of saying something they might hurt their damages claims, Munger added. “Because they are represented, their attorney has zero interest in helping us out,” she said. As a result, the criminal case against Nolan was dismissed without prejudice on July 6, 2021.
That was the same date that Cartwright signed off for her minor clients on agreements with the state to settle their tort claims, including costs and attorney’s fees, providing payments of $240,000 each to L.W. and I.T., and another of $175,000 to T.H. A separate settlement had already been signed in May 2021 with Lindsey, paying him $150,000. Like the others, the agreement stipulated that the settlement covered costs and attorney’s fees. See: Lindsey v. Nolan, USDC (W.D. Wa.), Case No. 3:21-cv-05078.
The Naselle camp opened in 1966, according to a fact sheet supplied by the state Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), housing some 71 young male offenders. The Naselle-Grays River Valley School District claims it educates 85 students at the camp, a large part of the district’s 300-student total enrollment, on which its state funding is based.
That was likely part of the reason, after Gov. Jay Inslee (D) announced in March 2022 that the camp would close in another 16 months, 19th District Rep. Jim Walsh (R-Aberdeen) responded with sharp criticism.
“We need more places like Naselle Youth Camp, not less,” Walsh said.
Inslee countered that the camp’s remote location makes it “impossible to provide the full range of juvenile rehabilitation services that are necessary.”
Meanwhile Cartwright was nominated to the federal bench in January 2022 by Pres. Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D). The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the nomination on May 25, 2022. At 36, she would be the second-youngest member of the federal judiciary if confirmed.
Additional source: Chinook Observer
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Related legal case
Lindsay v. Nolan
|Cite||USDC (W.D. Wa.), Case No. 3:21-cv-05078|