Boys-Ranch Victims To Get $5.5 Million -- State Reaches Settlement With Former Group-Home Residents

OLYMPIA - The state agreed yesterday to pay $5.5 million to former residents of the O.K. Boys Ranch, a group home for troubled boys where reports of rapes, beatings and a reign of terror led to its closure in 1994.

The money will go to 18 plaintiffs, including 12 victims and six parents. The settlement, filed with the Thurston County Superior Court, brings the total paid out by the state to nearly $15 million.

And it isn't over yet. John Connelly, the Tacoma attorney who represented the youths, said his firm is pursuing claims for five more young men.

The 15-bed state-licensed facility in Olympia was not far from the Capitol and the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) headquarters. It was shut down in September 1994, several years after state officials began receiving reports of alleged abuse that included rapes and beatings of younger boys by older ones, and physical abuse of residents by staffers.

Connelly said "shocking" evidence turned up during the latest case shows that the facility should have been padlocked as early as the 1970s.

"The kind of abuse that went on will affect these men permanently," Connelly said. "The major thing we learned in this case, where some of the older ones were bringing the action, is how long this abuse was allowed to go on."

He said all of his clients need therapy and live with varying degrees of distress and problems. Several are in prison, he said. Connelly said he is advising the men to wisely use their settlement checks for education and to get their lives in shape.

Previously, 26 former residents won a total of about $8.5 million in damages from the state. An additional $5.2 million has been paid by insurers for the Kiwanis Club of Olympia, which ran the home, and by insurers for the facility.

Jack Kennedy, special assistant attorney general representing the DSHS, said the settlements fully resolve all of the claims that had been scheduled to go to trial this fall.

"These claims stretch back to the 1970s and '80s," and the state has since greatly improved its monitoring of group homes and foster homes that serve state clients, said Kathy Spears, spokeswoman for DSHS.

The case led to changes in the way the state regulates group homes licensed by the state but operated by private groups. Among other things, the state tightened procedures for licensing and inspecting homes, and barred placement of sexually aggressive youngsters with minors who have been abused.

"Thanks to support from the governor and funds from the state Legislature, we have added more caseworkers to aid abused and neglected children who end up in our care," Spears said. "Also, we now have separate divisions responsible for inspecting these contracted homes . . . and investigating complaints."

By and large, group-home workers are "performing commendable jobs under trying circumstances," she said.

Earlier this year, the state also was forced to pay a $417,500 fine, after an arbitrator ruled that state lawyers wrongfully withheld documents damaging their own case and provided other documents that had been altered. That was the largest sanction of its kind in state history.