Grellet-Tinner’s lawsuit against county dismissed

A 2017 lawsuit against San Juan County, Sheriff Ron Krebs and former detective Stephen Parker was dismissed by the federal court in Seattle. In a decision dated July 21, United States Senior District Judge Marsha J. Pechman dismissed with prejudice the suit that was brought by former Orcas Island HIgh School Teacher Gerald Grellet-Tinner.

According to a press release from Prosecuting Attorney Randy Gaylord, the county defendants and Parker asked for summary judgment ruling. Each side had the opportunity to share information and it required Grellet-Tinner to present evidence and legal argument to support his case.

“From the start of this case, Mr. Tinner and his attorneys have talked about conspiracy and fabrication of evidence. This was the time for them to show what proof they had, and there was none,” Gaylord said in the press release. “The court says time and again that there was an absence of evidence or a failure to present evidence or law that support the different claims for liability.”

According to Pechman’s decision, San Juan County is not liable because it did not know of the alleged relationship between the detective and Grellet-Tinner’s student before the trial. Additionally, the court concluded there was no evidence Krebs was aware of or endorsed Parker’s alleged conduct or that the hiring practices at the county were inadequate.

Much of Pechman’s decision discussed the application of the principle of qualified immunity — a doctrine that requires proof that a police officer knew that the conduct was a violation of the accused’s constitutional rights. Pechman concluded that since Parker’s misconduct with the student occurred after Grellet-Tinner’s, there was no proof Parker conspired to violate Grellet-Tinner’s constitutional rights.

San Juan County was represented by Andrew Cooley and Kim Waldbaum of Seattle; Parker was represented by Patrick McMahon of Wenatchee; and Grellet-Tinner was represented by Nick Power of Friday Harbor and Angus Lee of Vancouver.

Case background

In October 2015, 59-year-old science teacher Grellet-Tinner was charged two felony counts of sexual misconduct with a minor in the first degree. At the time, the student was 18 years old and a student of Grellet-Tinner. According to San Juan County Prosecuting Attorney Randy Gaylord, the state legislature changed the age of a minor (if that person is a student of a teacher) to age 21 – not age 18.

In June 2016, Grellet-Tinner, who pleaded not guilty, was found guilty of both counts. Evidence in the trial included a pair of the student’s underwear with Grellet-Tinner’s DNA.

While Grellet-Tinner awaited sentencing, Gaylord learned that Parker and the student were allegedly having a sexual relationship. According to the dismissed lawsuit, the students was who revealed the relationship had occurred, while Parker initially denied the claims.

Grellet-Tinner’s counsel Robert Butler filed a motion to dismiss his case. In September 2016, San Juan County Superior Court Judge Donald Eaton granted Grellet-Tinner a new trial. That same month, Parker was placed on administrative leave.

Parker resigned from the department voluntarily in December 2016. A few weeks later, he sold his island home and moved with his family to Florida.

Following Parker’s departure, Krebs issued a statement about the inappropriate conduct of Parker, whose actions were against county policies and procedures.

An independent investigation into Parker in 2017 revealed that he did have a sexual relationship with a crime victim; showed disrespectful conduct toward her; used aliases to hide communication with her; and that he had shared with her details of other active cases. Gaylord asked Skagit County to consider prosecuting Parker, but the court declined. The Skagit prosecutor told the Seattle Times that none of the charges could be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Parker’s conduct was responsible for reduced charges or dismissal of three sex crime cases in San Juan County. In addition to the Grellet-Tinner case, a former San Juan Island soccer coach, originally charged with the rape of a child, agreed to a plea deal of a misdemeanor July 2017. According to prosecutors, Parker failed to report the incident. An investigation found three recorded interviews made by Parker: two from the student and one from the soccer coach. These initial files never made it to the prosecutor’s office.

The third case involved the rape of a 20-month-old child. The charges were dropped from rape to molestation in January 2017 because the accused’s confession to Parker was thrown out by the judge.

In April 2017, Grellet-Tinner’s lawyer renewed the motion to dismiss the trial, arguing that the misconduct by Parker could not be corrected in a new trial. The prosecution acknowledged that there was egregious misconduct that was further complicated because it was hidden by Parker and the student.

The court ruled that the misconduct was prejudicial because the student and Parker could both be accused of not being credible witnesses. The case was dismissed with prejudice.

The prosecutor’s office announced it would not pursue any other charges against Grellet-Tinner, but stated that the ruling did not exonerate the former teacher.

“Under the constitution, he is presumed innocent, but the ruling doesn’t exonerate because we can’t give him a fair trial,” said Gaylord.