OLYMPIA - The attorney for a 6-year-old girl who was allegedly molested by a former Olympia school bus driver has filed a lawsuit accusing the Olympia School District of violating the Public Records Act by withholding documents related to its investigation of the driver.
Gary Shafer, 32, of Port Orchard, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of first-degree child molestation for the alleged sexual assaults on two 6-year-old girls on a school bus in December. At the time of the alleged assaults, Shafer was acting as a helper on a route serving Centennial Elementary School. Shafer was being held Wednesday at the Thurston County Jail in lieu of $50,000 bail.
Tacoma attorney Darrell Cochran sent a tort claim notice to the school district in February, notifying the district that he intends to sue it for $2.25 million in damages on behalf of one of the 6-year-old girls and her parents. On Wednesday, Cochran filed a separate complaint against the district, alleging that it has failed to comply with the public records act by withholding pertinent documents related to the district’s investigation of Shafer after the allegations of molestation came to light.
“To date, the District has failed to produce these records, withholding them for the purposes of interfering with Plaintiff’s investigation of Shafer’s sexual misconduct and the District’s investigation,” reads Cochran’s complaint filed in Thurston County Superior Court.
According to exhibits attached to the lawsuit, the school district has so far shared 544 pages of material with Cochran in response to his request for documents “concerning child sexual abuse allegations against Olympia School District employee Gary D. Shafer.”
However, according to a copy of an email Cochran sent to the district after he received the 544 pages, the documents from the district contain “not much in the way of any investigatory materials by the District.”
The email Cochran sent in late March to district public records coordinator Peter Rex continues, “You indicate in your cover letter that nothing has been withheld under any claim of privilege. I want to make sure I am not misunderstanding what you have stated. The lack of records would lead me to believe that the District has made absolutely no inquiry into the molestation of its students by one of its employees. This strikes me as highly unusual, highly unlikely or simply a miscommunication by either you or me.”
Cochran states in his email that he has heard that “a counselor at one of the elementary schools actually confronted Mr. Shafer or a driver about Mr. Shafer’s presence on one of the buses. I see nothing on the records that reflects the confrontation, and I wonder if you are familiar with that situation.”
Rex’s emailed response to Cochran on March 28 reads, “ to the best of my knowledge the documents I sent to you represent all of the records that are responsive to your request of February 10, 2011. If you have other questions about the issues you’ve raised, I’d be happy to put you in touch with our legal counsel.”
Reached by telephone Wednesday, Rex said that the district cannot comment on pending litigation.
Shafer had worked for the district since October 2005 and had driven several routes, Rex said in a prior interview.
Shafer was placed on administrative leave the first week of January, when the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office contacted the district about the allegations. He resigned Jan. 19.
Shafer’s most recent bus assignment was Route 41, which serves Reeves Middle and Hansen Elementary schools.
Rex has said that Shafer passed the criminal background check required under state law when he was hired.
Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5465 firstname.lastname@example.org