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Defendants: State failed to investigate complaints

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Four hours northeast of Seattle, on the remote Colville Indian Reservation, dozens of Native Americans say they were sexually abused as children.

“I was robbed and left an empty shell," Katherine Mendez said. "I will always feel I was cheated.”

Mendez is one of eight defendants in a lawsuit filed Tuesday against the State Department of Social and Health Services. All were foster children placed at St. Mary’s Mission in Omak in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. 

The suit alleges that Father John Morse sexually abused the former foster children at St. Mary's Mission and that the state failed to investigate complaints. Morse is the subject of more than 75 prior abuse claims and lawsuits arising out of St. Mary’s Mission.

Dwayne Paul said he reported the sexual abuse to his state social worker at the time.

“She said everything is going to be all right and at one time she told me that I shouldn’t be making up stories,” said Paul.

In March, the Northwest Jesuits agreed to pay a $166 million settlement for abuse that occurred at St. Mary’s and other Catholic boarding schools in Washington, Oregon, Montana and Alaska.

The new lawsuit accuses the state of being negligent in its legal guardianship duties.

Because of the statute of limitations, Morse has never been charged with any crime.  He now lives in a retirement home on the Gonzaga campus and is under 24-hour surveillance.

DSHS said Tuesday that they had not received a copy of the lawsuit and would not comment on the pending litigation.  DSHS received a notice of intent to file a lawsuit more than 60 days ago and has not contacted Tamaki Law, the firm representing the defendants, about the allegations in the complaint.  A court date is expected to be set soon.

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