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Click here to read the full article about the settlement for all victims of the shooting on the NPR website.
By Sydney Mook on Jul 5, 2018 at 6:04 p.m.
ST. PAUL—A Minnesota judge has awarded $16 million in damages to a former patient of an East Grand Forks drug treatment center who was sexually assaulted by the center’s executive director, Bruce Biddlecome, in 2014.
Ramsey County District Court Judge David Higgs ruled that the woman is entitled to $8 million in compensatory damages and $8 million in punitive damages following a civil lawsuit against Biddlecome.
The former director of Douglas Place Treatment Center, Biddlecome pleaded guilty to sexual abuse of a vulnerable adult, a gross misdemeanor, in May 2016 after admitting to engaging in sexual acts with a center resident in 2014. He was sentenced to serve five months in jail.
Biddlecome, 43, was initially charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct by a person in an authority role, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. That charge was reduced to sexual abuse of a vulnerable adult after a judge ruled Biddlecome was not a counselor for the victim. In Minnesota law, all clients of residential treatment centers are considered vulnerable.
The woman told investigators Biddlecome sexually assaulted her twice when he took her on two different trips to area stores in November and December 2014 while she was a patient at the center, according to a court document.
Both times, Biddlecome demanded she have sex with him and threatened she would go back to where she came from — she understood him to mean jail — if she did not comply, a court document states.
The woman told investigators Biddlecome assaulted her a third time on Christmas Eve 2014 when he went into her room at Douglas Place and said he had come “for an early Christmas present and that it was her,” according to a court document.
He admitted to having sex with the victim on Christmas Eve 2014 when pleading guilty to sexual abuse of a vulnerable adult.
The judge noted that the woman was “particularly vulnerable to the abuse of someone like Bruce Biddlecome.” Higgs wrote that the “PTSD, depression and related emotional distress that results from that abuse is significant” and will likely continue through the rest of her life.
Higgs wrote that “breaking the cycle of chemical addition is a difficult feat on its own.” Coupling that feat with “the memory and trauma of being sexually assaulted and emotionally violated” multiple times by a person of trust will make future rehabilitation efforts more difficult.
“Although the wounds caused by Bruce Biddlecome are not visually apparent, the Court is convinced that they are deep wounds that will cause pain and hardship” for the rest of her life, Higgs wrote.
There is “clear and convincing evidence that Bruce Biddlecome acted with deliberate disregard for the right and safety” of the woman, he continued.
“Bruce Biddlecome admitted that he knew that sexual contact with vulnerable adults such as (the woman) was unethical, furthermore, as counselor he had been trained specifically about sexual contact with adults and was aware of the risks and consequences of such an action,” Higgs wrote. “Despite this knowledge, Bruce Biddlecome coerced and sexually assaulted (the woman.)”
Higgs wrote that Biddlecome knew he was in a position of trust and was aware that the residents of the center had past actions, such as criminal files and probation, that could be used to “coerce and exploit those individuals into providing personal gratification to him.” Higgs also noted that Biddlecome was mandated reporter, which meant he knew that he was required to notify the state about actions like his.
“Such conduct is reprehensible and is deserving of punishment. Given Bruce Biddlecome’s conduct and his position of power, the Court concludes that above punitive damages are warranted in this case,” Higgs ended.
Mark Kosieradzki, an attorney representing the victim, was not available for comment Thursday.
A link to the original story can be found here:
By Amy Forliti Associated Press Writer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Victims’ family members and survivors of the Red Lake High School shooting will split $1.5 million under a settlement reached with a company hired to come up with a crisis plan for the school.
During a hearing Tuesday, Hennepin County Judge Lloyd Zimmerman said he will decide how to split the money – and he will work on moving the case to Red Lake so the affected families won’t have to continue making the drive to the Twin Cities.
Bemidji attorney Mark Rodgers, who represented nine of the 21 clients, said the hearing will be held in January.
The Red Lake School District also paid a settlement of $1 million in 2006 to some of the individuals involved, Rodgers said. He said he also is handling the workers compensation cases for staff affected by the March 21, 2005, shooting.
“It’s a historic settlement for one of these school shooting tragedies,” Rodgers said. “We’re just happy we could get the best settlement possible for these 21 families.”
The settlement with Mac-Neil Environmental Inc. was reached last month, but the amount wasn’t disclosed until Tuesday’s hearing. As part of the settlement, Mac-Neil did not admit liability.
MacNeil had been hired to provide a crisis management plan, train school officials and evaluate the school’s security weaknesses.
Seven people at the school were killed and several others were injured March 21, 2005, when 16-year-old Jeffrey Weise carried out the attack, which ended when Weise killed himself. Before he went to the school, Weise killed his grandfather and his grandfather’s girlfriend on the Indian reservation in northwestern Minnesota.
“It’s been a long wait for them,” said Gregory McEwen, an attorney for injured student Jeffrey May and other plaintiffs. “They’ve been living with this for a long time.”
May, who charged Weise during the rampage and is credited with saving the lives of other students, has a brain injury, speech problems and walks with a cane.
The other severely injured student, Steven Cobenais, also has a brain injury and a glass eye.
Both May and Cobenais will require ongoing care for the rest of their lives, their attorneys said.
“They’re catastrophically injured,” said Richard Ruohonen, Cobenais’ attorney. The attorneys said their clients’ share of the $1.5 million won’t begin to cover the cost of lifelong care, but it will help.
Philip Sieff, an attorney representing many of the families whose loved ones were killed in the shooting, said the judge is in the best position to decide how the settlement money should be divided.
“That’s what we had requested, so we’re thrilled that the judge was willing to take on that difficult task,” Sieff said. Pioneer Editor Molly Miron contributed to this story.
Virgil Foster vs. Foster and Wake; Cass County Court File No. 11-CD-07-3058.
13 bales of hay tumbled down and entrapped our client under a bale of hay that weighed in excess of 1/2 ton; crushing his leg and fracturing several other bones. This case was settled at mediation and prior to trial for $720,000.
LLOYD HENDERSON vs. DEE, INC
Our workers’ compensation client, the injured worker, sustained injuries to both upper extremities while working for a manufacturer. Initially a 4 year retraining plan for a bachelor’s degree in social work was obtained by our law firm. Obtaining a 4 year retraining plan in Minnesota workers’ compensation is no easy task. When the injured worker developed unforeseen medical problems our office was successful in getting an additional one year of retraining benefits (or 25%) so that our client could successfully complete his bachelor’s degree in social work.
Our client became successfully employed as a social worker after the retraining plan.
Molly Miron Bemidji Pioneer
Published Monday, March 02, 2009
After almost four years, former Red Lake High School math teacher Missy Dodds won a court case for Workers Compensation for mental trauma causing mental injury.
Students were killed in Dodds’ classroom March 21, 2005, when 16-year-old Jeff Weise went on a shooting rampage that killed five other students and a teacher at the school and injured several others. He broke into Dodds’ classroom by shooting out a window. The attack ended when Weise killed himself.
Dodds still remembers the scene when Weise pointed his gun at her and pulled the trigger. The gun was empty.
Since then, Dodds has suffered psychological and physical symptoms and has not been able to return to work.
Mark Rodgers of Rodgers Law Office in Bemidji said his firm works primarily in injury and Workers Compensation cases. He said the conventional outlook on the case was that it should not have been heard in court based on the 1981 Lockwood decision, which barred claims for post traumatic stress disorder caused by exposure to mental stimulus. Consequently, Rodgers said, the outcome of the case is a precedent.
Following a six-day trial beginning in September in Beltrami County District Court, Judge Gary Mesna decided Monday that Dodds should receive compensation for her mental injuries.
“This case is compensable because … the mental stimulus, which was the extreme mental stress that the employee experienced at work on March 21, 2005, produced a physical injury to the employee’s brain that has left her with severe and unrelenting PTSD, depression and anxiety,” Mesna said in his ruling. “The mental stimulus also produced physical injury to the neck and shoulders, which would make the case compensable even if there is no physical injury to the brain.”
Mesna ordered the Red Lake School District to pay Dodds at the appropriate rate for permanent total disability benefits according to Workers Compensation law.
Mesna is a judge with the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings Workers Compensation Division.
“It’s been a real emotional morning,” Dodds said Monday. “But I’m really thankful for the way it turned out. I’m so grateful to Mark and Mike.”
Rodgers said attorneys Mike Garbo and Yuri Jelekov and Rodgers Law Office staff worked together on the case.
“We worked closely with Education Minnesota on this, too,” he said. “We put in over $100,000 of attorneys’ time and over $45,000 in costs.”
Those costs included obtaining testimony from local and national expert witnesses, he said, adding that his firm will petition the court for payment of the hours they have put in.
“We went to the wall for Missy Dodds,” Rodgers said.
Dodds said reliving the day of the attack during the trial was difficult, but the outcome is a great relief.
“It was the worst day ever – those were my babies and what happened to them was horrible,” she said of the shootings.
By Molly Miron Pioneer Editor
Families of victims of the 2005 Red Lake shootings are a step closer to receiving settlement money.
The 21 families settled a lawsuit last month against the Red Lake School District for $1 million. The agreement was subject to court approval.
Beltrami County District Judge Paul Benshoof signed a settlement agreement on Wednesday afternoon in Beltrami County District Court. Philip Sieff of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi law firm of Minneapolis and Mark Rodgers of Rodgers Law Office in Bemidji represented the families during Wednesday’s hearing. Shamus O’Meara of Johnson & Condon of Minneapolis and Mary K. Klein, Red Lake School District corporate attorney, represented the school.
The settlement will allot $900,000 to the 21 families and put $100,000 in an escrow fund until 2011 for potential other victims who haven’t yet come forward. The estates of some victims, such as Neva Rogers and Derrick Brun, who were killed during the shooting rampage, will receive settlements from workers’ compensation.
“The million dollars is the limit the school can pay on that tragedy,” said Rodgers.
Sieff agreed, saying the settlement puts any issues with the school district and these victims to rest. However, he said other parties not part of this settlement could still come forward.
“The district is very pleased that a settlement was able to be reached in a very timely manner,” said Klein.
“The settlement agreement is the result of near daily communication over the last year,” said O’Meara. “The families are glad to this part of the tragedy behind them.”
Rodgers said the injured parties feel the settlement is a positive step and will give them and their families some monetary compensation for the harm suffered as a result of the tragic shootings. He added that the investigation continues in relation to other responsible parties.
A federal court will decide how the $1 million will be divided, Rodgers said.
“We’re hoping to resolve that fairly quickly,” he said.
On March 21, 2005, 16-yearold Jeff Weise killed his grandfather and grandfather’s girlfriend on the Red Lake Reservation. He then went to Red Lake High School and killed five students, a teacher and a security guard and injured seven others before killing himself.
This young farm worker sustained severe back injuries while working for a sugar beet operation. The Employer aggressively defended the claim, claiming that there was no injury on the job. A trial was held where approximately 10 lay witnesses were present at trial on behalf of the Employer and Employee. Due to the skillful cross-examination and careful case preparation by Attorney Mark Rodgers, many of the Employer’s witnesses changed their testimony on the witness stand and indicated under oath that the injured worker had injured himself on the job. At the Employer’s request these same witnesses had prior to trial indicated that the injured worker had not hurt himself on the job. The compensation judge awarded the Employee ongoing workers’ compensation benefits with the total amount of compensation paid to the employee in the sum of $223,000 with medical benefits remaining open.
$352,000 WORKERS’ COMPENSATION AWARD RECEIVED FOR INJURED WELDER IN COMPLEX MEDICAL CAUSATION CASE. (Name withheld at the request of the client.)
Client was exposed to welding fumes causing him a permanent pulmonary condition (asthma) and ongoing surgical treatment for removal of work related lipomas (skin lesions). Liability for both of these conditions was denied by the workers’ compensation insurer. The case proceeded to trial and the judge found all of the injured worker’s conditions to be covered by workers’ compensation which eventually resulted in compensation paid to the injured worker of $352,000. Compensation Judge Nancy Olson stated that:
“This case involved very complex issues of medical causation. Mr. Rodgers’ expertise was essential in obtaining this positive result for his client. This is an extremely complex workers’ compensation claim which required a time commitment from Mr. Rodgers’ far in excess of that normally seen in litigated workers’ compensation cases.”
ST. REGIS SUPERFUND SITE EPA LOOKS TOWARD FEASIBILITY STUDY
By Laurie Swenson Pioneer Staff Writer
Three years after interim measures were ordered to address contamination in the area of the St. Regis Superfund site in Cass Lake, the Environmental Protection Agency is taking steps toward permanent action.
Among the next steps is a feasibility study to gather cleanup options, said Tim Drexler, remedial project manager with the EPA, during a public meeting Wednesday night at Cass Lake-Bena High School to update residents on the process.
“We do feel we have enough information to draw conclusions to make steps for the site,” Drexler said.
The St. Regis Paper Co. operated a wood treatment plant in Cass Lake from 1958-1984. The site was placed on the EPA’s Superfund List in 1984.
The site has four sections:
- The northwest portion of the former operations area.
- The southwest operations area and an on-site vault.
- The former Cass Lake dump where wastes were left.
- The residential area surrounding the site.
The EPA has concluded that the interim dust remedy has reduced risks to residents, but the area continues to pose a health and ecological risk.
The feasibility study will develop options for actions to address those risks. The options must provide protection to human health and the environment and comply with federal, state and tribal laws.
A special notice for the study was issued April 28 to International Paper, BNSF Railway Company, Cass Forest Products Inc. and the city of Cass Lake, the potential responsible parties.
The parties were asked to contact the EPA in 30 days and provide a good-faith offer within 60 days, with a signed agreement due in 90 days. The EPA received a letter May 29 from International Paper indicating the potential responsibility parties’ willingness to negotiate.
Tribal and state input will be recorded and a public hearing will be held for community input. There will also be a written comment period. The feasibility study is expected to be completed in 2009.
The EPA will make a final cleanup choice in a record of decision, which Drexler said could be expected in 2010, with remedial actions following.
The 2005 interim plan called for clean fill be placed over yards, dust suppressant on nearby unpaved roads, thorough housecleaning of affected houses, including replacement of carpets, and additional periodic housecleaning. International Paper completed the initial housecleaning, soil cover and first application of dust suppressant in 2006. Periodic housecleaning and dust-suppressant applications continue.
The EPA is also investigating groundwater at the former Cass Lake dump to investigate the extent of tar recently found in a monitoring well, delineate the extent of a known diesel plume and improve water quality monitoring. It also plans to investigate the Leech Lake Band Hatchery water wells.
One of the possible permanent remedies would include excavation of soil, with clean soil brought in, Drexler said.
The most drastic measure would be relocation of residents, which is very rarely done, Drexler said, and usually only when contamination cannot be brought to a safe level.
“I understand these things take time,” said Rep. Frank Moe (DFL-Bemidji). “We’re talking 20-plus years already. You’ve got a community that’s trying to pick itself up by its bootstraps.”
Moe asked what would happen if agreement could not be reached. “I’m not guessing they would be willing to clean up to the level most of the people in the community would like,” he said.
EPA attorney Mony Chabria said a lawsuit would be filed in that case.
“A big step has now been taken,” said Rita Messing, supervisor of site assessment and consultation with the Minnesota Department of Health’s Division of Environmental Health. She added that the risk and the need for remedies have been acknowledged and will be acted upon. “I think people should realize it’s a big step and let things happen a little bit.”
Moe said he was concerned about the city of Cass Lake and Cass Lake Forest products being considered potential responsible parties, considering they have significantly smaller resources than IP and BNSF. “How do you have a level playing field?”
Drexler noted that the four parties do not have to sign on to complete the work. “We would accept just one.”
“So essentially, stay tuned,” Moe said.
“We understand there have been some meetings among the four groups,” Drexler said. “We are obviously sensitive to the fact this is a very small community without much resources.”
During soil sampling in 2001 and 2003, dioxin levels on the St. Regis site exceeded the EPA’s dioxin policy for residential limits of 1,000 parts per trillion. But the ultimate goal is to bring the level to a far more conservative number. The MDA recommended levels of dioxin contamination is 20 ppt for residential areas and 30 ppt for commercial-industrial areas. The Leech Lake Band has set a limit of 10 ppt.
Bemidji attorney Mark Rodgers of Rodgers Law Office is representing some Cass Lake residents in real estate and injury lawsuits against International Paper, BNSF, Dow and Monsanto.
“Some of my clients have been living in that very high level of dioxin contamination of the soil in water for many years,” Rodgers said after the meeting, noting that the residents have serious health concerns and that the value of their real estate is severely compromised.
“I think the thing that’s lost in this is that the background soil level of dioxin is 3 parts per million in the Cass Lake area,” he said. “We’ve got levels at 1,000 and above at this site for 20 years or longer.
“We do know this – 3 parts per million is a heck of a lot less than a thousand.”
Drexler said gathering input for the feasibility study will be very similar to the process held for the interim measures.
“The community has seen some of the impact of their input,” he said.
“This is really democracy in action,” said Don de Blasio, community involvement coordinator with the EPA. “This is people’s chance to communicate to the government.”
In another development, the EPA has been made aware that on May 19-22, drillers representing some homeowners used probes to sample groundwater near the contaminant plume, with no coordination with the EPA, the Leech Lake Band or the MPCA. The EPA is formally investigating, Drexler said, adding that such actions can create liability under Superfund law.
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