Ignoring inappropriate interactions out of fear can often feel like the safest route, particularly when you live in a small, close-knit community.
There’s the fear that speaking up against someone else — especially someone in a position of power — will lead to loss of employment and alienation within the community.
Former Lopez Island Secondary School Principal David Sather has been accused of sexual harassment. We interviewed the complainants and school staff regarding the case. Read our in-depth coverage of the story on Page 1.
Since the story broke, more potential victims have come forward, according to Cedar Law PLLC attorney Shannon McMinimee. Her firm is handling the tort claim and complaint to the Human Rights Commission against Sather. One of the alleged victims claimed she and her children had to move off the island because of Sather’s actions.
Sather is now on administrative leave. Reading the stories from his accusers, it’s shocking to think Sather’s alleged behavior went on for so long. How does this kind of work culture become acceptable? We — particularly women — are taught to not make waves, to not make a “big deal” out of comments that make us feel a little uncomfortable.
Speaking out when something isn’t quite right takes a strength of will and immense courage, especially when you know that nothing may change afterward.
In the case of Sather, the Lopez School board ordered an investigation into his actions two years ago when the first accusations were made. The investigation concluded that Sather’s romantic relationship with an employee he supervised was “consensual” and he was “sorry” for inappropriate comments.
Sather was allowed to remain in his position of authority and keep his role as coordinator of Title IX, a federal mandate that protects people from sex discrimination.
Let that sink in for a moment.
Someone in a position of power admits to sleeping with an employee yet he is permitted to keep a role that is tasked with preventing inappropriate work relationships.
In the past four years, similar cases have happened here in our county.
• Former Orcas High School teacher Gerald Grellet-Tinner was convicted of sexual misconduct with a minor. The case was later overturned due to sexual misconduct by a detective (see below). Grellet-Tinner reportedly had a relationship with one of his students, who was 18 years old and considered a minor because she was under the age of 21, which is the age of consent for a student-teacher relationship. In June 2016, Grellet-Tinner was found guilty of both counts in the San Juan County Superior Court. In July 2016, the victim said she was having a sexual relationship with the case’s lead detective. Grellet-Tinner was granted a new trial in September 2016. In April 2017, charges against him were dismissed.
• Former San Juan County Detective Stephen Parker was the lead detective on the Grellet-Tinner case. In July 2016, it came to light that he and the victim in the case were having a sexual relationship. In September 2016, Parker was put on administrative leave. He resigned and moved off-island a week before a hearing for another case on which he had served as a detective. An independent investigation concluded in January 2017 that Parker had a relationship with the victim in the Grellet-Tinner case. That case and two other sexual assault cases against minors were thrown out due to Parker’s involvement in them. In June 2018, Washington state revoked Parker’s criminal justice training certificate.
• Former State Sen. Kevin Ranker resigned in January 2019 amidst an investigation into an extramarital relationship he had with an employee while he was a San Juan County Commissioner. When he became a senator, he brought her with him as a staff member. After the relationship, the employee said she was harassed by Ranker. She left his office and went to a different government agency, where she claims the harassment continued. Ranker’s resignation, he stated, was due to his father’s illness. He admitted to the inappropriate relationship but not to the claims of harassment.
We hope that anyone in our community — regardless of gender or age — who is experiencing sexual misconduct will come forward with their experiences. There are people who will listen and help you. Case by case, step by step, we are creating a new culture of non-acceptance of abuse of power.
Mandi Johnson contributed to this editorial.