Enumclaw police ignored child rape tip, lawsuit claims

Enumclaw police delayed acting on a 2014 tip that a teenage girl was being sexually abused, according to a lawsuit filed last month on behalf of the teen’s mother.

“(It’s) like a gut shot. Gut punched. (I was) just shocked. Just shocked,” the mother said, describing her reaction upon learning that Enumclaw police had received a detailed complaint that a man with a history of “sexual deviancy” was abusing her daughter.

According to the suit, a citizen came to the Enumclaw Police Department’s lobby in December 2014 and gave the tip to an on-duty officer. The citizen was a co-worker of a man who was bragging that he was having sex with an underage girl.

The suit says the tip languished for nearly three months before being assigned to a detective.

“My daughter wouldn’t have been raped (if police took action),” said the mother. She asked to speak anonymously so that her daughter, who was 14 when the abuse happened, would not be identified.

A detective was assigned the case in February 2015, and quickly afterward law enforcement arrested 37-year-old Ryan Rothermel. 

Rothermel, who had previous convictions for attempted voyeurism and exposing himself, lived with his former girlfriend. The girlfriend, Susan Tuttle, also rented a studio apartment in her Enumclaw home to the mother of the sexual abuse victim.

“To tell you the truth, I don’t think it happened,” Tuttle said of the sexual abuse Rothermel was found guilty of doing.  She told KING 5, “There’s no proof, and I live here. I never saw anything happen.”

But sufficient proof was gathered after Enumclaw police actually started investigating, and Rothermel pleaded guilty to child rape in May of this year and is now serving a three-year prison sentence.

Although the teen initially denied that there was any sexual contact, police eventually learned that Rothermel was sneaking into the girl’s apartment when her mother was at work. The girl admitted to detectives that she started having sex with Rothermel in late December 2014. 

That was three weeks after Rothermel’s co-worker tipped Enumclaw police to the fact that Rothermel was bragging of having sex with an underage girl.

The mother’s attorney filed suit claiming negligence by the police department for not immediately taking action.

“They never actually had sex, you know – intercourse, until the middle of December.  So, had something been done right after this report was made – had CPS been contacted or somebody went to the house – they could have stopped this,” said Darryl Parker of the Civil Rights Justice Center Law Firm in Seattle.

Under Washington law, police officers are mandatory reporters who are required to contact Child Protective Services (CPS) when they receive a child abuse complaint. 

Norah West of the Washington Department of Social and Health Services wouldn’t discuss this specific case. But she said if a police officer fails to report a child abuse complaint, the agency often will contact the officer’s superiors or the Washington State Patrol.

Via email, Enumclaw City Administrator Chris Searcy said, “The claim is being investigated at this time,” and, “I don’t have any further comments.”

Documents obtained by the KING 5 Investigators show that police officials appear to have concerns about how the case was handled.

“The case does have some issues that will need to be discussed (early reporting/work flow communications),” one Enumclaw police officer wrote in a city document.

The lawsuit on behalf of the mother was filed last week after the city did not respond to a tort claim seeking $6,000,000 in damages.

The suit names the City of Enumclaw and at least two police officers.  It also names former landlady Susan Tuttle, accusing her of negligence for allowing Rothermel to live in the same house as his young victim.

-- Follow Chris Ingalls on Twitter: @CJIngalls

Copyright 2016 KING


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