Questions Remain On Boys-Home Scandal

OLYMPIA - Attorney General Christine Gregoire said today that a number of questions are still unanswered in the O.K. Boys Ranch abuse scandal, even after an investigation by her office and Department of Social and Health Services investigators.

Among them is whether any legislators pressured DSHS to keep the state-licensed group home open, despite sexual and other abuse in the home from 1987 to 1992.

There's no evidence that occurred. But DSHS investigators' suspicions were raised when they found a memo from a legislator to DSHS officials inquiring about keeping open a different group home in Chehalis. Investigators wanted to know whether there were any other such memos about the O.K. Boys Ranch, but it was never pursued because DSHS didn't respond to a request for correspondence.

The review was ordered by Gregoire in July after a former Department of Social Services investigator charged he and other DSHS investigators were kept by the attorney general's office from interviewing some DSHS officials, and was then taken off the investigation.

The DSHS investigators were looking into why DSHS had done nothing about abuse at the state-licensed Olympia group home from 1987 to 1992. An administrative review looking at whether department procedures were followed was completed earlier this year. A criminal investigation should be finished soon.

Martin Dickson, one of the DSHS investigators, told legislators he suspected a cover-up because the attorney general's office also is responsible for representing DSHS in lawsuits. Legislators have promised hearings once a criminal investigation into the abuse is complete. The review found there were reasons for the investigators to be suspicious, but that they occurred because of miscommunication, rather than an attempt by the attorney general's office to stifle the probe. Six weeks into the investigation, DSHS officials concerned about the investigation's lack of progress removed the head of the department's internal-investigations unit, J. Michael Smith, and asked attorney general's staff attorney Linda Dalton to lead the probe. Investigators saw that as an attempt to stifle their investigation.

Dalton and attorney general's staff attorney Michael Schwartz, who was in charge of prosecuting the case, laid down a number of requirements for investigators to follow before interviewing witnesses. Investigators wanted freer reign to follow up leads, and several potential witnesses, including DSHS Secretary Jean Soliz, were never interviewed.

Gregoire recommended to Gov. Mike Lowry that an independent agency reopen the investigation to pursue any leads DSHS investigators were kept from following.