Submitted by San Juan County Prosecuting Attorney Randy Gaylord
The lawsuit by former Orcas Island High School Teacher Gerald Tinner against San Juan County, Sheriff Ron Krebs and former deputy sheriff Stephen Parker has been dismissed by the Federal Court in Seattle. Under the court’s order, Mr. Tinner and his attorneys take nothing.
Mr. Tinner was convicted by a San Juan County jury in 2016 for having sex with a high school student, a crime known as sexual misconduct with a minor. In 2017, the case was dismissed by the trial court after it was told that the lead detective, Stephen Parker also had a relationship with the student/victim and Mr. Parker said words to the effect that the student “set people up.” In 2017, Mr. Tinner had filed a Notice of Claim against the county seeking $10 million. In 2019, this lawsuit was filed in Federal Court. It alleged due process violations, conspiracy claims, negligence and outrage.
The County defendants and Mr. Parker asked for a ruling using the summary judgment procedure. After each side has the chance to share information, this approach required Mr. Tinner to present evidence and legal argument to support his case. At this stage of the case, one cannot rely upon speculation of what the facts might be.
Prosecutor Randall Gaylord said, “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. 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.”
The court’s decision explained that San Juan County is not liable because it did not know of the alleged relationship between the detective and Tinner’s victim before the trial. Additionally, no evidence was presented that the Sheriff Ron Krebs was aware of or endorsed the conduct alleged of Deputy Parker or that hiring practices at the county were inadequate.
Much of the decision discusses the application of the principle of qualified immunity, a doctrine which requires proof that a police officer would know that the conduct was a violation of Mr. Tinner’s constitutional rights. The court examined the constitutional rights at issue – namely, the right of a defendant in a criminal case to be told of that is exculpatory or permitted for impeachment purposes. The difficulty the court observed was the acts creating criminal liability for Mr. Tinner ended before the alleged relationship with the police officer began. Absent proof of fabrication of evidence, which was not plausible where the DNA came from sexual contact, there was no exculpatory evidence that was withheld. Moreover, the “set up” comment, if made, would not be exculpatory because the criminal charge is statutory in nature and the victim’s intent or a “set up” would not affect the fact that the crime occurred. As to impeachment purposes, the court said there are legal doctrines which protect against questioning victims about other sexual contacts, and that no evidence create questions about character for dishonesty or untrustworthiness.
San Juan County was represented by Mr. Andrew Cooley and Ms. Kim Waldbaum of Seattle; Mr. Parker was represented by Mr. Patrick McMahon of Wenatchee; and Mr. Tinner was represented by Mr. Nick Power of Friday Harbor and Mr. Angus Lee of Vancouver.