SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Six sisters say their lawsuit accusing city and county officials, a church and its pastors of failing to stop decades of abuse by their parents should survive a motion to dismiss, because their civil rights were violated and it’s not too late to sue over what happened to them.
Zion Dutro tortured and molested biological daughters Amber Dutro, Glenda Stripes, Sarah Dutro and Martha McKnelly, and foster daughters Frances Smith and Christina Moore over a 20-year period with the help of wife Glenda Lea Dutro. After the couple was finally arrested, Zion and Glenda Lea were convicted and sentenced in 2011 to 300 years and 15 years in prison, respectively.
The now-adult sisters filed a lawsuit in May against the city of Antioch, Contra Costa County, several law enforcement and child protective services officers, Calvary Open Bible Church and two ministers.
Their lawsuit recounts a harrowing tale of physical, mental and sexual abuse at the hands of Zion and Glenda Lea Dutro, and alleges that church leaders, Antioch police officers and Contra Costa’s CPS workers stonewalled investigations in an effort to protect the couple, who were prominent members of the evangelical church.
The sisters say they were initially unaware of law enforcement’s duty to protect them and the pastors’ duty to report abuse, and it wasn’t until the Dutros were sentenced and incarcerated that they felt free to go public with their stories.
Last month the defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, claiming the statute of limitations had expired, and the sisters failed to adequately plead their civil rights claims.
In three opposition briefs, the sisters point out that McKnelly filed her sexual abuse claim before she was 26, as required by law, and the older women allege physical, non-sexual injuries against Contra Costa County that are not time-barred.
“The statute of limitations did not accrue in this case until at least July 2011, based on the delayed discovery rule. Under California law, the delayed discovery rule delays accrual of a cause of action ‘until the plaintiff is aware of her injury and its negligent cause,'” the sisters claim in their first opposition brief, citing the state Supreme Court’s ruling in Jolly v. Eli Lilly & Co.
“As a preliminary matter, the claims at issue here are not simply based on the fact that plaintiffs were abused by the Dutros, as the county defendants suggest,” the sisters argue. “Rather, their claims against the county defendants are based on the wrongdoing by those defendants — their failures to perform mandatory duties intended to stop abuse and prevent further abuse. The county defendants expect plaintiffs to have understood and appreciated the wrongfulness of their conduct while plaintiffs were minors and were subject to extreme, horrific abuse. The law certainly doesn’t compel such a result.”
The women say they did not fully comprehend the wrongdoing of Contra Costa County agents because they suffer from psychological damage stemming from the abuse. They also claim that, prior to Zion Dutro’s sentencing, they lived in fear of retaliation.
The sisters say the city contributed to their delay in filing by denying them access to relevant police reports. Police also instructed them “not to read the reports or discuss the case with anyone until the criminal prosecution of the Dutros had ended,” the women say in their opposition brief to the Antioch defendants. They claim city and county officials continue to refuse their requests for certain documents.
The sisters also counter Calvary Open Bible Church’s claim that California law did not make pastors mandated reporters until years after the first sister told the church about the abuse.
“[T]he church defendants had a common law duty to supervise the Dutros, as they were agents of the church,” the women claim in another opposition brief.
“The church had plenty of information showing that the Dutros, especially Zion Dutro, were abusing their children. Despite this, they placed the Dutros into positions where they would continue to work with children and did absolutely nothing to stop the abuse. Even after Zion Dutro was a registered sex offender, the church retained him and placed him in positions with extensive contact with children, even to the point of supporting the Dutros in their attempt to adopt a family from Mexico,” the women say.
“The church defendants also had a statutory duty to make an initial police report to a police department, not an individual police officer who was also a sympathetic church member. They failed to do so,” the women claim (original emphasis).
The sisters ask the court to allow them to amend their complaint if it finds any of their pleadings inadequate and to deny the defendants’ demands for “a more definite statement.”
“The complaint at issue here contains specific factual allegations regarding each of the [defendants] and the basis for their liability,” the women argue.
A hearing is tentatively set for Aug. 29.