Lawsuit: State knew of juvenile inmate's abuse by staffer

Suit claims employees at Nampa detention center ignored a relationship between a worker and the boy.

jsowell@idahostatesman.comJuly 2, 2014 

Julie E. McCormick

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Canyon County 3rd District Court, seeks compensation for a then-15-year-old boy who was sexually exploited in 2012 by a woman who served as the safety and security supervisor at the Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections facility in Nampa.

The suit claims that Julie McCormick, who was 30 at the time, engaged in sexual intercourse with the boy several times between July 4, 2012, and Aug. 8, 2012. The activity took place in McCormick's office and other areas in the detention center that were out of range of surveillance cameras.

The lawsuit seeks damages in an amount to be determined at trial.

Jeff Ray, spokesman for the Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections, said Wednesday he could not comment on the lawsuit.

“This boy was diagnosed as being easily misled and a prior victim of child sexual abuse,” said attorney Bruce Skaug, who filed the suit along with Eric Rossman. “He was under psychiatric care, taking psychiatric medications, and was particularly vulnerable.”

Skaug and Rossman contend that McCormick had "few, if any, actual qualifications" for security management or the care or treatment of juvenile mental health patients.

McCormick told investigators she fell in love with the victim, listed in the lawsuit as "John Doe." In the early summer of 2012, she allegedly laundered his clothes and bed blankets, returning the items heavily perfumed. She also wrote him love notes and removed letters and photographs of the victim's girlfriend from his cell.

Last summer, McCormick pleaded guilty to lewd conduct with a minor under 16.

Third District Judge Bradly Ford in April retained jurisdiction in the case and placed McCormick in a prison-based treatment program. If she successfully completes the program, she could be released before the end of the year. Otherwise, she faces five to 20 years in prison.

Besides McCormick, the lawsuit names the Idaho Department of Juvenile Corrections; department Director Sharon Harrigfeld; Betty Grimm, the retired superintendent of the Nampa detention center; and 10 unnamed workers at the facility.

Greg Braun, a Nampa certified public accountant who was appointed to serve as a limited conservator for the victim, is listed as the plaintiff.

The lawsuit claims that several workers at the detention center saw evidence that McCormick was carrying on an inappropriate relationship with the boy but did not report it.

On one occasion, the lawsuit contends, a worker walked into McCormick's office while McCormick and the boy were dressing following a sexual encounter. Another worker was shown a note written to the boy by McCormick which provided McCormick's home address and words of affection toward him. The employee who saw the note told the boy it was up to him if he wanted to continue the relationship with McCormick after he was released from the facility.

McCormick allegedly bragged about her conquest of the victim to another youthful offender held at the detention center.

For several weeks at work, McCormick wore a distinctive silver necklace that belonged to the victim. The necklace was worn in plain view of inmates, employees and detention center management, the lawsuit claims.

The lawsuit alleges that Harrigfeld, Grimm and other employees were aware that McCormick had taken the victim and other male inmates into her office, which was improper under department rules. The two officials were also aware that McCormick had developed an inappropriate relationship with the victim and was spending "one-on-one" time with him, in violation of the rules.

One department employee expressed concerns as early as April 2012 that McCormick was developing an inappropriate relationship with the boy, saying the "boundaries are becoming more and more blurry," according to the court document.

Action was taken only after McCormick was found in her office with the boy following a sexual encounter on Aug. 8, 2012. McCormick was fired.

Harrigfeld, Grimm and the department are also defendants in a separate whistleblower's lawsuit filed by 10 Department of Juvenile Corrections workers.

The plaintiffs allege that 10 to 12 juvenile offenders held at the detection center were victims of sexual misconduct since 1998.

They claim that one of the perpetrators, a woman who was not McCormick, sexually abused a boy inmate and then moved in with the youth after he was released from custody. The male offender later was hired by the department and allegedly sexually abused a female offender.

The employees also accused Harrigfeld and Grimm of ignoring fraudulent timecard entries by some employees and claimed the department engaged in unfair hiring practices, tolerated waste and ignored safety procedures.

The defendants deny the allegations.

Grimm served as superintendent of the Nampa facility from 2008 until her retirement Nov. 9. In an affidavit filed later that month in the whistleblower lawsuit, she denied knowing of any problems.

"I have no knowledge of any specific complaints or concerns having been made by the individual plaintiffs in this litigation to their supervisors regarding safety at the institution, waste, hiring practices, timecard reports or sexual misconduct by staff towards juveniles," she said.

After the whistleblower suit was filed in 2012, Harrigfeld issued a statement assuring Idaho residents that the state’s juvenile facilities were safe.

John Sowell: 377-6423, Twitter: @IDS_Sowell

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