A response to Seattle Times’ coverage of local ‘sex and deception’ | Editorial

A response to Seattle Times’ coverage of local ‘sex and deception’ | Editorial

Thanks to one corrupt detective, the county is facing a $10 million lawsuit. An Orcas teacher was found guilty for misconduct but those charges were dismissed and a woman in our community has been left without justice.

These events made their way to a Seattle Times reporter’s desk and then, on Sunday, April 22, the front page with Mike Carter’s story “The professor, the cop and the student: a tale of sex and deception in San Juan County.”

Our readers voiced their complaints online and in person about the biased tone of the article, which they interpreted as painting the teacher as a victim and the student as a seductress.

I have two issues with the story: the sexy undertones of the initial description of the teacher, and an implication that the victim is to blame.

I do not claim the article has factual inaccuracies, but occurrences, such as the one this woman experienced, are full of nuance and complexity that one newspaper story cannot tackle. I’d like to address two issues to add more shades of understanding on the case, taking into consideration that our society all too often focuses on victims of sex crimes rather than the perpetrators.

In this case, one person is to blame, and he is a crooked cop.

The description of the teacher

Let’s go back to the April 22 edition of the Seattle Times’ Sunday front page where, under a photo of a man bearing a contemplative appearance, appeared the words, “A tall man with an imposing head of wavy blond hair, a wide smile and a French accent, Gerald Grellet-Tinner was a sort of rock star among paleontologists.”

For many in our community, this introduction – whether he is seen as guilty, innocent or somewhere in between – evoked the image of a long-haired rockstar admired by the masses and representing freedom of desire and sex, drugs and rock and roll. It is 26 words of a roughly 2,000-word article, which to be fair, goes on to outline the complex nature of this case, but nonetheless, we think it’s an inappropriate way to represent Grellet-Tinner in a newspaper story.

I spoke with Carter for nearly an hour and a half on Friday, and we both agreed that our conversation was off the record. I will share my conclusions of that exchange. Carter is the real deal. Not only is he a Pulitzer-winning journalist, it was evident that he spent several weeks poring over at least 1,200 pages of court documents.

He is also adamant that he not in the business of victim-blaming. I believe he wrote this story to uncover injustice, not only to the victim, but to Grellet-Tinner. We can all agree Grellet-Tinner did not receive a fair trial because of former Detective Stephen Parker’s unethical conduct during the investigation. Any evidence brought against Grellet-Tinner is tainted. The most compelling piece of evidence brought to trial was semen found in a tissue from the victim. The defense argued that the DNA evidence did not mean the two had intercourse; she could have “gotten it from somewhere.”

“She seduces people” and “set him up”

This notion that the victim set up Grellet-Tinner was a cornerstone of the defense in the initial trial. This is important to note when referencing Carter’s article. It is also the reason I take issue with one of his sentences and why I offer a clarification to our readers.

Carter wrote, “San Juan County Superior Court Judge Donald Eaton agreed [the initial trial led to an unfair conviction], and granted Grellet-Tinner a new trial based on Parker’s statement that Antonia [the victim’s false name to protect her identity] ‘seduces people’ and ‘set Tinner up.’”

The way Carter wrote the sentence made it appear that the judge was agreeing with Parker’s statement that the victim indeed “seduces people” and “set Tinner up.” That was not the case.

After listening to the court recording of this legal proceeding, I confirmed the judge said he granted a new trial based on Parker’s failure to reveal his statement to the defense that the victim “seduces people” and “set Tinner up.” After the initial guilty verdict in June of 2016, and just two days after “Antonia” told victim advocate Christine Miller that she was having an affair with the detective, Parker then told Miller “Antonia” made it up.

I want to make this crystal clear: after months of helping build a case against Grellet-Tinner and speaking on the stand during the trial to the teacher’s guilt, and after a jury found Grellet-Tinner guilty – after all that – Parker makes the statement that the victim sets people up. This leads us to wonder if the victim’s decision to admit to the affair affected his judgement.

At the Sept. 20, 2016, hearing, Eaton made it clear that whether or not the two had an affair is besides the point. Eaton stressed that if Parker had reason to believe the victim set Grellet-Tinner up, the defense had a right to that information. Without it, Eaton concluded, Grellet-Tinner was not given a fair trial. This was not clear in Carter’s article.

In addition, Carter mentions the DNA briefly one time but uses the phrases “she seduces people” twice. More emphasis is put on the plight of Grellet-Tinner and less time is devoted to the law enforcement officer who made a huge mess in our community and then hightailed it to Florida as soon as he resigned.

Parker’s questionable 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. According to prosecutors, Parker failed to report the incident. The third case involved rape charges dropped to molestation charges because the perpetrator’s confession to Parker was thrown out by the judge. (Read more at www.sanjuanjournal.com.)

One person is to blame

After revisiting the judge’s reflections on the legal proceedings, I am reminded of a few powerful words by Eaton.

At the final hearing on April 21, 2017, when more information came to light and Eaton dismissed the charges, he said, “This is a miscarriage of justice and it’s the responsibility of one person.” He added, “This is a sad statement in light of the respect I had for law enforcement.”

In the end, the detective took away this community’s right to know if a teacher in our school district was guilty of misconduct, and I don’t blame our readers for their frustration. I think it’s fair to ask, “Are young women in our islands safe?”

Antonia reached out for help and guidance from someone who was bound by oath to uphold her safety. Instead, Parker took advantage of her and ensured that she would never see justice.

We can only hope that this community recognizes Eaton’s words: that the responsibility of this debacle is on Parker’s shoulders and not a then 19-year-old student. We applaud those in our community for their outrage against victim-blaming in response to Carter’s article.

As of press time, we have been unable to verify if Parker has had his law enforcement credentials revoked by the Criminal Justice Training Commission. We will continue to investigate this matter to ensure he never uses his power against the people he is meant to protect.

Case facts:

In June of 2016, former Orcas Island teacher Gerald Grellet-Tinner was found guilty of two counts of Sexual Misconduct in the First Degree. In the state of Washington both parties have to be 21 or older to have consensual sex between a teacher and student. The victim was 19 at the time. Later that summer, a new trial was granted based on the fact that student had a relationship with the lead detective Stephen Parker. In December, Parker resigned. In 2017, an independent investigation into Parker alleged that he had an inappropriate relationship with the crime victim, showed disrespectful conduct toward her, used aliases to hide communication with her and shared details of other cases. On April of 2017, San Juan Superior Court Judge Donald Eaton dismissed the misconduct charges. A few days later, Tinner’s attorney sent a press release stating they would be seeking $10 million in compensation for damages stemming from the alleged violation of his constitutional rights by the county. Both Parker and Tinner maintain their innocence to this day.

This is not the full story, and neither is Carter’s article. You can find the Journal’s coverage by visiting www.sanjuanjournal.com and searching “Gerald Grellet-Tinner” and “Stephen Parker.”