North Whidbey Park and Recreation District faces court over sexual abuse claim

North Whidbey Park and Recreation District “strongly disputes” a lawsuit’s contention that the district was negligent in hiring or supervising a swim coach who allegedly sexually abused a young swimmer 14 years ago, according to the district’s attorney.

Island County resident Laura Hall, the alleged victim, filed a lawsuit for undisclosed damages in King County Superior Court against North Whidbey Park and Recreation District, United States Swimming, Inc., Pacific Northwest Swimming Association and the former coach, Andrew King.

Hall previously filed a complaint for damages against the North Whidbey Park and Recreation District for $15 million. Her attorney, Jay Krulewitch of Seattle, said he filed the lawsuit after the district’s insurance company failed to present a proper counter offer to the complaint.

King was employed by the district as head swim coach and aquatics director from January of 1994 to mid-June, 1997. He is currently serving a 40-year prison sentence in California after pleading no contest to 20 child molestation charges. Investigators identified 12 young female swimmers who were molested by King.

According to the lawsuit, King “sexually assaulted, battered, humiliated and sexually molested” Hall on multiple occasions when she was between 11 and 14 years old.

“She was completely and totally devastated by the abuse and it had a profound impact on her life,” Krulewitch said.

The lawsuit argues that the district, USA Swimming and Pacific Northwest Swimming failed to properly investigate King’s background and that the defendants “knew or should have known” that King “was a predatory pedophile who had sexually abused other children in his prior positions.”

Moreover, Krulewitch said the district completely failed to supervise King. As both the head coach and aquatics director, King had completely unfettered access to young swimmers, he said.

The lawsuit claims negligence and breach of fiduciary duty, respondeat superior liability, sexual exploitation of a minor, and sexual assault, sexual molestation and battery. Hall requests to be awarded compensatory damages, “including, but not limited to mental anguish, emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of self-esteem, loss of reputation, embarrassment, humiliation and special damages and general damages to be established at trial.”

Christopher Kerley, a Spokane attorney representing the district, said in a written statement that the district strongly disputes that there was any negligence in hiring or supervising King.

“More specifically, the District strongly contests Ms. Hall’s claim that, at any relevant time, the District knew or should have known that King was engaging in inappropriate sexual behavior with female swim team members,” he said.

King mysteriously disappeared from Whidbey in June of 1997 after the district’s board of directors planned a special meeting to discuss a rumor that King had an inappropriate relationship with a female swimmer. But King cleaned out his desk prior to the meeting and left. A short time later, the board received his resignation letter.

Three years later, the Oak Harbor Police Department received a complaint that King had sexually assaulted Hall. Detective Teri Gardner investigated, but the prosecutor’s office declined to charge King. Gardner has said the delay in reporting made the case difficult to pursue.

Kerley said that police interviews with people who worked closely with King at the North Whidbey Park and Recreation District “were completely unaware of King engaging in any inappropriate sexual behavior with female swim team members.”

Craig Carlson, the district’s executive director, said he couldn’t discuss the impending litigation in any detail, but he did point out that nobody currently associated with the district or swimming pool was involved back when King was the coach.

The trial in the lawsuit is scheduled for June 25, 2012.

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