SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - The youngest victim of abuse at the hands of her father waited too long to pursue civil rights claims against authorities, a federal judge ruled.
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 his wife, Glenda Lea Dutro. The pair were convicted and sentenced in 2011 to 300 years and 15 years in prison, respectively.
Now adults, their children filed a complaint in May 2012 against the city of Antioch; Contra Costa County; several law enforcement and child-protective services officers; Calvary Open Bible Church; and two ministers.
In addition to recounting the harrowing physical, mental and sexual abuse that Zion and Glenda Lea Dutro dealt, the complaint says that church leaders, Antioch police officers and Contra Costa CPS workers stonewalled investigations to protect the prominent evangelical couple.
After U.S. Magistrate Nathanael Cousins dismissed the sisters' complaint as time-barred a year ago, youngest sister McKnelly pressed forward with her claims against the city and county. She argued that California's delayed discovery rule extends the statute of limitations for sex abuse claims to a victim's 26th birthday.
All five sisters also renewed their state against the church defendants at the same time, stating that they filed their claims within three years of realizing that their ongoing psychological injuries stem from the sexual abuse and Zion Dutro's status as an agent of the church.
But on Monday, Cousins granted requests by the city and county defendants to dismiss McKnelly's claims as time-barred. He reasoned that where states have enacted various statutes of limitations for different tort claims, a federal court considering civil rights claims must use the state's standard time limit - two years in this case.
Furthermore, McKnelly's admission that she knew Zion Dutro had been investigated several times between 1995 and 2003 defeated her delayed-discovery argument, according to the magistrate.
"The allegations of the second amended complaint reveal that McKnelly was aware that the Antioch police officers investigated reports of abuse by Zion Dutro back in 1995; that he was not immediately arrested and was instead allowed to return home to the children; that he was given an opportunity to intimidate plaintiffs into denying the full extent of the abuse and that the abuse of plaintiffs became worse; that the county's Child Protective Services did not interview plaintiffs for approximately two weeks after Glenda Stripes reported the abuse; that in 1995, CPS conducted the interviews of plaintiffs in the presence of the abusers and in an accusatory manner that prevented plaintiffs from telling the truth and seeking CPS assistance despite the fact that 'plaintiffs had very much wanted the opportunity to ask CPS what would happen to them if they had been abused and to find out if what their parents had told them was true;' that despite Zion Dutro's confession and during his probation CPS never returned to the Dutro household again and did nothing to prevent further abuse or even check on plaintiffs; and that the City police did not arrest Zion Dutro after plaintiffs Sarah Dutro and Christina Moore reported in 2003 that Zion Dutro had molested them," Cousins wrote, recounting McKnelly's complaint. "McKnelly thus had sufficient information as early as 1995 that city police and the county CPS investigated reports of abuse and that plaintiffs had continued contact with Zion Dutro notwithstanding the city and county's involvement. McKnelly thus had all of the facts necessary at that time to determine whether she had a viable claim against the city and county defendants."
Despite the sisters' contention that they didn't fully discover their injuries until consulting with a psychologist in 2011 - after Zion Dutro's conviction and life sentence - awareness of the horrors they endured years before compels the standard statute of limitations, according to the judge.
However, Cousins declined to decide the Dutros' state law claims against Calvary Open Bible Church and two pastors. The sisters have said their parents' deep involvement in the church led pastors and church leaders to hide the abuse, violating California's mandatory reporter laws.
"The court finds that this case presents the usual balance of factors and that the circumstances do not justify the exercise of jurisdiction over the state law claims," Cousins wrote. "The resources expended by the court on this case have not been significant and have consisted almost entirely in ruling on defendants' motions to dismiss the first and second amended complaints. Remanding the state law claims to Contra Costa County Superior Court therefore will not cause undue duplication of effort."
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.