Sexual Abuse at Kiwanis Vocational Home and Olympia Kiwanis Boys Ranch
Darrell L. Cochran
Tacoma attorney Darrell Cochran has been lead counsel on dozens of cases against the State of Washington, including the cases settled in May 2017 for sexual abuse at the Kiwanis Vocational Home and Olympia Kiwanis Boys’ Ranch.
Kevin M. Hastings
Tacoma attorney Kevin Hastings has been involved in the Kiwanis sex abuse cases since we were first contacted by our clients. He is standing by to talk to additional victims of abuse at these group homes.
Pervasive and Systematic Abuse at the Kiwanis Vocational Home (KVH or Coffee Creek Center) and the Olympia Kiwanis Boys Ranch (OKBR): Were You a Group Home Victim?
We know of multiple complaints so far. The state has already spent at least $50 million settling these cases as discreetly as possible.
You might have stayed quiet because you needed to protect yourself before. But we can help fight for your rights now. We’re experienced litigators who specialize in these kinds of abuse of power. We’re not scared of the State of Washington. We’re not intimidated by these “well-connected” Kiwanians or any of their buddies.
We believe dozens, if not hundreds, of men were abused as children at the Olympia Kiwanis Boys Ranch or the Kiwanis Vocational Home. If you or someone you love is one of them, please let us know by filling out the form at the bottom of this page.
What Is the Case About?
From 1971 to late 1994, the State of Washington funded foster group home placements for boys between 10 and 17 years old at the Olympia Kiwanis Boys Ranch, also known as the O.K. Boys Ranch or OKBR, and the Kiwanis Vocational Home or KVH, later rebranded as the Coffee Creek Center.
Under the supervision of the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), these group homes became houses of horror.
Olympia Kiwanis Boys Ranch (OKBR)
The Olympia Kiwanis Club launched the OKBR in 1971. Starting with 13 boys between 11 and 16 years old, it eventually housed more than 70 boys at a time, some as young as 10. Abuse at the OKBR was both rampant and flagrant. The home was shut down in late 1994 amid countless allegations of abuse. A local news story from 1995 described it as:
a place where newcomers were “initiated” with group beatings; where punishment included “open season,” a sanctioned invitation for other kids to pummel an offending child; where the assistant director thought it was “fun” for the boys to scramble for cigarettes tossed from an upstairs window; where the youngest and most vulnerable lay awake expecting to be raped by their housemates; where, after all that, a child so young he needed help to make a phone call could run away and beg—unsuccessfully—to be taken anywhere but back to the O.K. Boys Ranch.
The OKBR was a “level 3” facility, taking the most difficult cases from the DSHS: troubled boys with difficult pasts and criminal histories. Despite branding itself as a treatment facility for victims of sexual abuse and receiving state money for counseling and therapeutic services, the home never hired anyone qualified to lead such a treatment program.
Insufficient supervision by untrained and unqualified staff, combined with dense housing and placement of boys with unprepared foster families, created a perfect storm of abuse at the OKBR. The “victim’s groups” set up for boys who were survivors of previous sexual abuse quickly turned into “offender’s groups” instead, where the smaller, younger boys were helpless prey.
In addition to sexual abuse, physical assaults occurred daily at the OKBR. Not only did the home’s leaders and staff members abuse the children in their care, but the boys themselves assaulted each other. Forced fights and beatings were common.
Staff members—untrained and overwhelmed at best, criminal at worst—deemed it impossible to prevent the boys from engaging in physical and sexual abuses. When the OKBR was finally shut down, an average of two known “reportable” incidents of physical or sexual abuse were occurring every week.
Kiwanis Vocational Home (KVH)
Following the lead of Olympia’s Kiwanis Club, the Centralia Kiwanis Club founded its own group home for troubled boys. The KVH opened in 1979 with four boys. It grew at a tremendous rate, housing 40 boys in 1984 and 82 boys in 1991 before it was shut down for persistent problems.
Allegations of sexual abuse started as early as 1982, but KVH’s director dismissed reports or covered them up, once interrupting a child’s call for help. That child later reported that a staff member had raped him and had allowed the child privileges in exchange for oral sex.
In 1991, KVH’s director was accused of sexually abusing resident boys; he eventually resigned. His replacement was later accused of physically abusing the boys at the KVH at least 12 times. None of these incidents were reported to Child Protective Services (CPS).
The abusive conduct wasn’t limited to the leadership or staff. As at the OKBR, older boys at the KVH preyed on younger boys, abusing them physically and sexually. Starting in 1985, reports of sexual abuse between residents and by staff and other adults were a regular occurrence.
Problems between the boys were due to both understaffing and overcrowding. As early as 1984, the KVH failed to meet the minimum state qualification requirements for staff. In 1991, the state noted that the KVH was operating with “no social worker, no vocational program, no school, and no work program,” despite receiving state funding for such programs.
The state also reported that the physical environment at the KVH was “deplorable,” with “broken fire alarms, pipes protruding through the bedroom floors, defective toilets, exposed outlets, broken glass, frequent electrical overloads, leaking roofs, rotting floors, protruding nails and screws on resident beds, broken fire escapes, and broken windows.” Within this unsafe environment, as many as four or five boys—including sex offenders and sexual assault victims—were crammed together in a single bedroom. A state monitor described this combination of young boys with sexual predators as “a bomb awaiting the match.” Further, he noted, KVH “staff is woefully untrained to handle the present situation.”
The KVH was rebranded as the Coffee Creek Center in 1992, but its problems continued. It finally closed in 1994.
The State’s Role—Covering Up Abuse at Both Homes
The conditions for children at these group homes could only be described as torture. Boys displaced from their birth families were subject to physical and sexual abuses—not to mention ongoing mental and emotional torment—that were so pervasive that they became routine. The number of boys irreparably scarred by their time in the Kiwanis homes will never be known.
Both the homes and the DSHS failed these boys at every level. The dangerous combination of money from powerful donors, politics, and cronyism prevented anyone from acting to protect these children. In just one example, a local man who donated property worth $20,000 to the OKBR was “recognized” for his contribution by being allowed weekend visits from the resident boys. He was later convicted of molesting those boys.
The state was directly complicit in these abuses. In a state audit conducted at the OKBR in 1989, the home failed to meet 8 of the 10 minimum requirements for state licensing. The auditor’s report was ignored, and the home was re-licensed without any substantial changes. The state’s deputy secretary intervened to prevent license revocation in 1991, ordering his staff to “work it out.”
These continual, catastrophic, systematic failures persisted the entire time both homes were open. Criminal activity among the staff and the boys was often ignored, violating mandatory reporting laws. Sexual violence was dismissed without investigation, with staff members claiming that “boys will be boys.”
Worse, the politically connected Kiwanians in charge of both homes had their own ways of evading consequences. According to the Seattle Times, the police eventually sought criminal charges against the administration at the OKBR. However, the Thurston County prosecutor declined to file any such charges. That prosecutor was the president-elect of the home’s parent organization, the Olympia Kiwanis Club.
The Washington DSHS knew of the abuse for at least five years before shutting these homes down. That’s why the state is now being held accountable for its part in this devastating tragedy.
Were You a Victim?
You are not alone. We are here to help you recover from what happened to you. Please fill out the form below, and one of our attorneys will contact you to discuss your situation and your options.