Jury awards $3 million to two in sex-ring case

SPOKANE — A jury yesterday found the city of Wenatchee and Douglas County negligent in their treatment of several people targeted in the mid-1990s Wenatchee child-sex-rings investigations.

In the only monetary award, jurors ordered the county to pay $3 million to two of the six plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs had sought damages of $12 million to $20 million.

After nearly two days of deliberations and three weeks of testimony, Spokane County Superior Court jurors awarded $2 million to Honnah Sims and $1 million to her husband, Jonathan.

Douglas County was found liable for all the award, with the city of Wenatchee cleared of any liability in the Sims case.

The jury found both the city and county negligent in their investigations of Roby Roberson, a Pentecostal pastor, and his wife, Connie. But jurors found the negligence did not meet the standard required for a financial award.

Plaintiff Donna Rodriguez, a parishioner in the Robersons' church in East Wenatchee, Douglas County, also was found to have been the victim of negligence by the city, but jurors decided against monetary damages for her. Rodriguez did not sue the county.

No damages were awarded to the Simses' son, Daniel, also a plaintiff.

Presiding juror Chris Hrycenko said the panel concluded Honnah Sims deserved compensation for enduring a nearly three-month wait from the time she learned she was a target of the investigation until her May 1995 arrest.

"That was the biggest part of it," Hrycenko said. "And of course, her being strip-searched at the jail didn't help."

But Hrycenko said jurors found that any failings on the part of Wenatchee police did not meet the standard required to make a financial award — that is, they were not a "proximate cause" of the plaintiffs' damages.

"The police had to do what they had to do," she said.

It was the decision by Douglas County prosecutors to press charges that caused the damages, Hrycenko said.

Plaintiffs' lawyer John Stocks said he would appeal the verdict.

Honnah Sims, a Sunday-school teacher at the church, was acquitted of molestation in late 1995.

Roby Roberson declined to comment after the verdict.

He and his wife were jailed for 155 days in 1995 after being charged with 14 counts of child rape and molestation. They were acquitted later that year.

Charges against Rodriguez were dismissed after several children recanted their statements.

In a 1998 civil trial, a jury rejected claims that authorities violated the civil rights of the Robersons, Sims or Rodriguez.

The Robersons and Sims also sued the state after their acquittals. That case was settled for $850,000 in December 1999.