Suit against Wash. state alleges abuse at school

November 22, 2011 - 6:00 PM

SEATTLE (AP) — Eight Native Americans filed suit Tuesday against the Washington Department of Social and Health Services, claiming the agency placed them in a mission boarding school where they say they were sexually abused by a Jesuit priest decades ago.

The plaintiffs are now adults in their 50s and 60s living in Washington and Montana. They were wards of the state when the abuse occurred, and officials failed to ensure their safety, said their attorney, Blaine Tamaki.

The complaint centers on allegations against the Rev. John Morse at St. Mary's Mission School in Omak. Morse has been the subject of multiple sex abuse claims but has denied the allegations. Morse was never charged with a crime, Tamaki said, because the criminal statute of limitations had expired.

Morse now lives in Spokane, but a phone listing for him could not immediately be found.

The lawsuit alleges the state approved Morse as the foster parent for five of the plaintiffs but failed to investigate whether he or St. Mary's was a proper placement for the children.

The suit also claims the state was notified of abuse at the school — alleged to have occurred from the late 1950s to early 1970s — but failed to investigate.

"DSHS was informed that the children weren't safe but did nothing to investigate and protect the children," Tamaki said.

John Wiley, a department spokesman, said Tuesday his agency had not yet seen the lawsuit and couldn't discuss it.

In March, the Oregon Province of the Society of Jesus agreed to pay $166 million to hundreds of Native Americans and Alaskan Natives who were abused at its schools in the Pacific Northwest. It was believed to be the U.S. Catholic Church's third-largest settlement involving sex abuse cases.

The Jesuit order ran village and reservation schools in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska.

The eight plaintiffs in Tuesday's lawsuit filed in Thurston County Superior Court were part of the March settlement. Their attorney said the order filed for bankruptcy, and full compensation hasn't been provided to the victims.

A call and email to the province was not immediately returned Tuesday.