An internationally renowned scientist and professor who once faced prison for allegedly having sex with a student at Orcas Island High School has sued the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office, claiming he was wrongly convicted through a conspiracy involving a former sheriff’s detective who was having a secret sexual relationship with the alleged victim.
Dr. Gerald Grellet-Tinner, a renowned paleobiologist who had retired to Orcas Island to care for his ailing son, alleges former Detective Stephen Parker repeatedly violated his civil rights by becoming sexually involved with a 19-year-old undocumented Mexican national who had accused Grellet-Tinner in 2015 of having sex with her while he was teaching chemistry and advanced placement biology at Orcas Island High to make money.
Based on Parker’s investigation, Grellet-Tinner in 2016 was convicted by a jury of two counts of first-degree sexual misconduct with a minor under a Washington law that makes it a crime for a school employee to have sex with an enrolled student under 21 years of age, if the employee is more than 60 months older than the student. He faced more than a decade in prison and having to register as a sex offender.
After the detective’s indiscretion was revealed, a judge threw out Grellet-Tinner’s convictions as a “miscarriage of justice.” Last year, he filed a $10 million claim against the county, which did not respond. Parker, who has denied wrongdoing, resigned from the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office.
Grellet-Tinner, a Ph.D. who once taught at UCLA and was credited with discovering how a species of dinosaurs incubated their eggs near volcanic vents, claims in the complaint filed Friday in U.S. District Court that his reputation was destroyed by the ordeal.
The Seattle Times detailed the events in a story published in April 2018.
Grellet-Tinner, 63, has denied any sexual relationship with the young woman and alleges in the lawsuit that Parker had promised her a crime-victim’s “U-visa” to stay in the U.S. A later investigation by an outside law enforcement agency revealed that the detective had sexual relations with her at least five times while Grellet-Tinner was in jail awaiting sentencing.
The lawsuit alleges that Parker breached his responsibilities as a law enforcement officer and that the San Juan Sheriff’s Office, including Sheriff Ron Krebs, knew or should have known that Parker was a troubled police officer based on information provided by veteran San Juan Deputy Jeffrey Asher before Parker was hired. No criminal charges were filed against Parker, although investigators concluded he had committed perjury and probably witness tampering. The San Juan County Sheriff’s Office found he had committed significant misconduct following two investigations.
Attempts to contact Krebs on Monday were not successful. A sheriff’s dispatcher said he was on vacation.
San Juan County Prosecutor Randy Gaylord, who is not named in the lawsuit but whose office will likely defend against it, said Monday he had not seen the complaint and could not comment. Attempts to contact Parker, who has since moved to Fort Meyers, Florida, were not successful Monday night.
According to the lawsuit, Krebs wrote Gaylord in December 2014 while Parker was being vetted for the job that Asher “came to me with a pretty grandiose story of lies, changing statements, hiding evidence, destroying evidence, fabricating victim statements and other issues regarding Stephen Parker.”
“After [Detective] Parker’s relationship with [the woman] came to light, both Defendant Krebs and Prosecutor [Randy] Gaylord publicly denied that there had been any warning signs which would have indicated that … Parker was a problem.”
The lawsuit alleges violations of Grellet-Tinner’s due-process guarantees and right to a fair trial, conspiracy, negligence and outrage. It states that, as a result of publicity over the case and the wrongful conviction, Grellet-Tinner lost his job, lost custody of his son, lost a research grant from the University of New England in Australia and has had his reputation permanently tarnished. It claims he accrued legal fees in excess of $100,000 and has “suffered noneconomic damage including a restrain and deprivation of his liberty, emotional anguish [and] humiliation.”
The lawsuit states that Grellet-Tinner has since been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis that has been “exacerbated by the post-traumatic stress disorder caused by the actions of the defendants.”