A Thurston County woman has received a $7.5 million settlement from the Olympia-based Blackhills Football Club to settle a lawsuit that alleged she was raped by her soccer coach in an Oregon hotel room in 2005 when she was 16.
Darrell Cochran, who represented the woman along with attorney Kevin Hastings, said the $7.5 million settlement is believed to be one of the largest ever paid to an individual sexual abuse victim in the state.
The woman’s lawsuit also named James Charette, the club’s technical director, and former coach David Cross as defendants.
The woman, now 33, said she hopes her story will help other sexual assault victims come forward and will help parents recognize the signs that their child is being groomed and abused. She said she felt so much shame after being raped, she didn’t tell anyone until years later.
The Seattle Times typically does not identify crime victims.
“I was suicidal for years … I went from being this little girl who was always laughing, always cracking jokes, outgoing, a total social butterfly, to not wanting to leave my room,” she said. “It broke my life, it broke my soul. I lost who I was and my parents had no idea what to do.”
Though the woman’s case wasn’t supposed to go to trial until August, Cochran suspects the timing of the settlement offer came about because he was scheduled to depose Charette next week about the more than 20 “critical emails” that were deleted from Charette’s computer in November 2019 while it was in the possession of attorneys with Scheer Law, the Seattle law firm that represents the Blackhills Football Club.
The deletion of the emails was discovered after Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Lanese ordered forensic examinations of computers belonging to Charette and Cross, Cochran said. He said Charette turned his computer over to Blackhills’ attorneys on Nov. 20, 2019, and the emails were deleted three days later before they could be examined on Nov. 25 by a digital forensics company.
Attorney Mark Scheer did not return a phone call Thursday, nor did Michael Guadagno, one of the attorneys who represented Charette and Cross. Attempts to reach Charette were unsuccessful.
The woman’s settlement is the fourth to be reached with Blackhills since February 2019 involving girls who allege they were sexually assaulted by another coach, with one receiving $2.5 million and the two others each receiving $1.5 million, Cochran said. Earlier this week, a fifth woman filed a lawsuit against the Blackhills Football Club, alleging she too was raped by her coach, said Cochran, who isn’t involved in that litigation.
One of the club’s founders, Dennis Jones, was convicted of fourth-degree assault for sexually assaulting a player in a van in 2002 and served six days in jail, The Olympian reported in a 2015 story about one of the earlier lawsuits against Blackhills. Jones was also named in The Seattle Times series “Coaches Who Prey,” published in December 2003.
The $7.5 million awarded to Cochran’s client “acknowledges that this coach was a sadistic rapist and everybody knows about it … [and] there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that he horrifically raped her,” he said.
When the woman filed her lawsuit in May 2018, she and Cochran reported the rape to police in Grants Pass, Oregon, where it allegedly occurred, but to date no criminal charges have been filed, according to Cochran. He acknowledged the difficulty of investigating a sexual assault so many years after it occurred, but said he plans to send information about the settlement to police in hopes it could lead to criminal charges.
The Seattle Times is not naming the former coach because he has not been criminally charged. The man, who previously worked or coached in schools in Madras, Oregon, Chehalis and Federal Way, and quit his job with the Tacoma School District after being put on administrative leave, denied he raped Cochran’s client in a February 2020 deposition.
According to the 33-year-old woman’s lawsuit, parents paid thousands of dollars for their children to play with the elite soccer club in hopes of getting college scholarships. In the aftermath of Jones’ 2002 arrest, a document by the club’s president directed employees and members “to keep the arrest, grooming and pattern of abuse quiet,” the suit says.
Blackhills hired the woman’s alleged rapist in 2004 as an assistant girls soccer coach and he later became head coach of her team, according to her lawsuit. By May 2005, when the says she was raped, Blackhills Football Club “perpetuated a system of misogynistic, chauvinistic grooming and alcohol-fueled behavior by coaches, leading to the sexual predation of girl players in the organization,” says the suit.
During out-of-state tournaments, the club’s coaches discouraged parents from attending games or from staying in the same hotels with their daughters, Cochran said.
The coaches “would get drunk and then they’d head to the pool and have the equivalent of wet T-shirt contests. They’d sit around in their darkened glasses and ogle all the girls,” he said. “It was such a charade, it absolutely blows my mind.”
His client played in a three-day tournament in Medford, Oregon, over Memorial Day weekend 2005, with the team staying at a hotel in nearby Grants Pass. The coach promoted her to captain and invited her to his hotel room on the last night of the tournament to discuss strategy and the lineup for the final game, according to the suit.
When she stood to leave, the coach blocked her exit, threw her on the bed and raped her, the suit says. After the assault, the coach threatened to destroy her life if she told anyone, then dragged her into the hallway by the hair.
She tried to play the next day and her coach threatened to rape her again if she didn’t “snap out of it,” the lawsuit says.
At the end of another tournament in Bellingham in June 2005, the girl’s mother, sensing something was wrong, confronted the coach, who yelled and threw an orange cone at her before storming off the field, according to the suit. He never worked for Blackhills after that and no one at the club followed up with him to figure out what had happened, though Charette and Cross were both immediately aware of the coach’s “bizarre departure,” it says.
Following the rape, Cochran’s client struggled in school and began abusing drugs and alcohol, the suit says. She has been drug-free for 10 years.
Now a social worker in Thurston County, the woman said it took a long time for her to stop being afraid of her former coach. During the rape, she remembers him telling her she was only on the team because she was pretty, which destroyed her confidence in her own talent. After the Bellingham tournament, she never played soccer again.
“Soccer was truly like my first love. Everything revolved around getting to play,” she said.
She was shocked by news of the $7.5 million settlement but said she’s grateful her legal battle against Blackhills is over.
“I feel like I owe my parents a lot and I’ll make sure they’re taken care of for the rest of their lives because they’re the ones who kept me out of the ground when all I wanted to do was no longer be a part of this world,” she said. “I feel that for the last 17 years all I’ve been doing is surviving. This is now my opportunity to heal from this and to start living.”
Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story.