San Juan County settles with alleged assault victim

  • Sat Sep 9th, 2017 3:00pm
  • News

A convicted felon, who claims she was assaulted by the San Juan County Sheriff, was awarded $34,000 in a settlement with the county this summer.

Melonie Terry of Orcas will receive $26,000, said San Juan County Prosecutor Randall Raylord, while $8,000 will cover Terry’s fines and penalties for her crimes, as well as restitution to the victims.

In 2015, Terry filed a Civil Rights Complaint against the county for an alleged assault by San Juan County Sheriff Ron Krebs for what she called a “violating” pat search after her 2012 arrest. Terry was convicted of felony burglary and misdemeanor theft in 2013 in San Juan County.

Her complaint was also filed against Deputy Jack Wilsey, former county sheriff Rob Nou and Compass Health. Gaylord said the Civil Rights Complaint is the equivalent to a lawsuit.

Krebs and Wisley were dismissed without admission of guilt or liability before Terry settled with the county, explained Gaylord. Krebs was a deputy during the alleged incident and he and Wisley are still employed at the sheriff’s office.

Krebs maintains his innocence.

“It’s frivolous and ridiculous,” Krebs told the Journal in March. “People sit in jail and have nothing better to do.”

Settlement

The case was dismissed in the Federal United State District Court Western District of Washington last May to be settled out of court between the two sides of the lawsuit and a mediator.

Krebs said he would have gone to trial, but the county’s risk pool claims manager advised against it. Factors considered before settling included the uncertainties of trial, as well as the cost of defense, explained Gaylord.

Gaylord added that the county pays into a risk pool of Washington counties to insure against legal claims for money, like in this lawsuit. The settlement funds came from the risk pool.

Terry originally asked for $5 million for “pain, suffering and medical bills tied to future counseling for the sexual assault,” according to court documents.

Gaylord said Terry requested the case go to a federal court after the complaint was filed. She is currently serving the remainder of her sentence at Mission Creek Corrections Center for women in Belfair, Washington.

While Rob Nou and Compass Health were named in the suit, said Gaylord, they were not served, and therefore not named in the dismissal with Krebs and Wisley. However, charges towards everyone on the complaint have been dropped since the case is now settled.

Department policies

Krebs said it is the department’s policy to use female officers to search women, whenever possible. However, at the time of the alleged incident, there was one female deputy, who was not on duty.

“Calling her out to do pat down for weapons was not practical,” he said. He added that it is not a law, or even a national standard, to have officers search arrestees of the same gender.

Gaylord also explained that Terry did not question the legality of cross-gender searches in her complaint and that cross-gender searches are not a constitutional right.

“Searching is a practical step that happens in every jurisdiction, every day,” said Gaylord.

According to Krebs, of the department’s 21 current officers, including the sheriff and undersheriff, none are women.

The alleged assault

The alleged assault in San Juan County came to light in March 2015 when Terry told an officer in Skagit County. According to court documents, the officer told her she could report it and she stated “they are the police.” The officer told her “that did not mean people in our profession couldn’t get in trouble for such things” and alerted his chief.

According to Terry’s account in the complaint, she was patted down by officers Wilsey and Bruce Distler during her arrest in October 2012 for the break-in at an Orcas home. She said she was searched a second time at the Orcas substation and then transported to the Friday Harbor jail.

Terry said an officer met her at the dock for a third pat search that was “aggressive, unreasonable and violating,” according to court documents. It was dark and Terry said she could not identify the deputy.

She wrote in her statement, “C.O. John Doe fondled my breasts and roughly squeezed my buttocks. This occurred as officer Jack Wilsey stood and watched. When C.O. John Doe began his unreasonable search, I objected, but was told not to resist. I began to cry and asked witness Jack Wilsey to help. Officer Jack Wilsey shrugged his shoulders and left me in the custody of C.O. John Doe.”

Although Terry couldn’t recall John Doe’s description, San Juan County Sheriff’s Office employees discovered Krebs handled the booking.

“It is so egregious. She says she can’t remember my face, but I drove her up to the jail and booked her,” said Krebs. “I search everyone before they get in my patrol car, no matter how many times they have been searched before.”

According to Terry’s testimony in the complaint, she also reported the alleged incident to Compass Health and her public defender but both were unable to help. Compass Health offers mental health and chemical dependency services in San Juan County.

On April 1, 2015, Undersheriff Brent Johnson wrote Terry the following memo regarding her allegations: “I understand your complaint is an emotional one that has caused you pain; I’m sorry that has happened. I know this alleged incident occurred a little over two years ago, and you cannot identify the person you feel has caused you harm. I showed you some photos of the deputies that had been working on San Juan Island and you couldn’t identify him. You pointed to one deputy and said, ‘This could be him…I’m not sure.’ The deputy you pointed to was not on the call. I want you to know that your complaint has been heard, and I will review search techniques with our deputies. I want to thank you for helping us by bringing this complaint to my/our attention.”

Convictions

In March 2013, Terry, 54, was convicted by a jury of second-degree burglary and third-degree possession of stolen property. She was ordered to serve 60 months in prison and to pay $1,347 in fines in a sentence by San Juan County Superior Court Judge Don Eaton.

According to court documents, Terry has been convicted of more than two dozen criminal offenses in the last 20 years, including 10 separate felony drug or property crimes since 1999. She appealed her 2013 San Juan County conviction but lost.