A federal judge has thrown out a civil-rights lawsuit filed against San Juan County law enforcement officials by an internationally recognized scientist and professor who claimed his conviction resulted from a conspiracy involving a former sheriff’s detective who was having a secret sexual relationship with the alleged victim.
U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman, in a 17-page order issued late Wednesday, ruled the deputy — who has since left the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office — is immune from liability under the doctrine of “qualified immunity,” even if what Dr. Gerald Grellet-Tinner alleged is true.
Grellet-Tinner, a renowned paleobiologist who had retired to Orcas Island to care for his ailing son, had claimed former detective Stephen Parker repeatedly violated his civil rights by becoming sexually involved with a 19-year-old student at Orcas Island High School. She accused Grellet-Tinner in 2015 of having sex with her while she was his assistant at the school, where he was teaching chemistry and advanced placement biology 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. Grellet-Tinner was 59 years old when the incident allegedly occurred.
According to court documents and internal investigation documents, while Grellet-Tinner was in jail awaiting sentencing, the detective in the case was involved in a sexual relationship with the woman.
Nick Power, Grellet-Tinner’s civil attorney, said he was disappointed in the judge’s decision and is talking to his client about challenging Pechman’s order in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
After the detective’s purported indiscretion was revealed, a judge threw out Grellet-Tinner’s convictions as a “miscarriage of justice.” Later, a county witness-protection advocate said Parker told her the young woman “set people up” — a statement that was never relayed to prosecutors and Grellet-Tinner’s attorney until after his conviction, according to court documents.
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 his lawsuit that his reputation was destroyed by the ordeal.
The Seattle Times detailed the events in a story published in April 2018.
Grellet-Tinner has denied any sexual relationship with the woman, who was a Mexican citizen living in the U.S. without legal permission. He 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.
In her decision, Judge Pechman said Grellet-Tinner failed to show any connection between Parker and the woman before he was accused, casting doubt on the existence of a conspiracy.
“If [the woman] was lying about having sex with [Grellet-Tinner], the lie predates her meeting defendant Parker by a matter of weeks; therefore the existence of a relationship between [the woman] and … Parker has no relevance” to Grellet-Tinner’s defense, she wrote.
Parker left the sheriff’s office after an outside investigation concluded he had met and had sex with the woman several times, including in his patrol vehicle. Parker denied ever having had a relationship with the woman.