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State ordered to pay $3M in Monroe sex abuse lawsuit
The Daily Herald - 11/20/2023
MONROE — The state must pay $3 million to a woman who alleged officials failed to step in when she was being sexually abused by a former Monroe police officer when she was a child, a jury ruled this month.
After two weeks of deliberation, a Snohomish County Superior Court jury faulted the state Department of Social and Health Services for negligence in the early 2000s.
"The system did not work properly for my client many years ago," the woman's lawyer, Raymond Dearie, said Friday. "No one heard her, and the jury heard her this time. The jury spoke loud and clear."
The 10-person jury, however, did not find the Monroe School District was negligent. The district did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.
The state DSHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment, either.
Monroe police Sgt. Carlos Martinez met the middle school student in 2001 when he was an instructor for the school's drug-abuse resistance program, known as DARE, according to the lawsuit. The girl was 13 at the time.
Martinez sexually abused the child for several years when she began babysitting his kids. The complaint alleged a state DSHS employee knew about the abuse, but did not report it, due to her own romantic relationship with Martinez.
Under state law, the employee was a mandatory reporter for suspected abuse or neglect of a child or vulnerable adult.
The state claimed the employee's interactions with the child were "limited and infrequent," and happened "off the clock," according to court documents.
The student reported Martinez's behavior to school district staff, but they didn't take her seriously, according to the lawsuit. A guidance counselor reportedly told the victim "if you cry wolf so many times, no one will believe you."
The district denied the allegations, claiming the counselor did not have "reasonable cause" to believe Martinez was abusing the students, court documents say.
In 2011, the victim reported Martinez's abuse to law enforcement in Texas.
"I understood that Carlos's abuse was wrong when I turned him in to San Antonio law enforcement in 2011," the victim wrote. "But even at that time I did not understand that the years of sexual abuse caused me harm, and did not understand such until many years later when I started the long and continual process of discovering the harm the sexual abuse had upon me."
In 2015, a Superior Court judge sentenced Martinez, a former school board member, to 14 months in prison for voyeurism and possession of child pornography. Four other felony sex crime charges related to the case were dropped.
"The abuse consumed my life, and I turned to alcohol as a Band-Aid to try and numb everything," the victim wrote in a statement to the court in January. "It feels like Carlos's abuse stole my childhood and young adult life away from me, and it still impacts me to this day."
In 2018, an appellate court denied Martinez's appeal.
In February of this year, the state asked Judge Cindy Larsen to dismiss the lawsuit's negligence claims, arguing the state employee's interactions with the victim were not "within the scope of her employment." Larsen denied the state's request.
Dearie called the abuse against his client "totally preventable."
"This is a case about protecting kids and the system failed," Dearie said. "We need our teachers, our counselors and in this case, our CPS investigators, to do a better job and be more vigilant."