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Hanna Boys Center to face civil trial in mid-2019

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Attorneys for two brothers who were sexually abused as teens by former Hanna Boys Center counselor Kevin Thorpe have filed new allegations in a civil lawsuit against the residential treatment facility for troubled youth.

The suit, originally filed in 2017 but amended Nov. 28, alleges Hanna officials were aware of the abuse and failed to stop it.

The lawsuit additionally names the Roman Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa, as well as Thorpe and another Hanna employee, Joseph Filice, as defendants.

The two brothers were also witnesses in the recent criminal proceedings against Thorpe, which resulted in plea of no contest and a sentence of 21 years in prison.

The next hearing date for the suit is set for Jan. 25, and jury trial is set to begin on June 7, 2019.

The case against Hanna is being led by Manly, Stewart & Finaldi lawyer Vince Finaldi.

The 285-page amended motion filed on Nov. 28 alleges that plaintiffs John MR Doe and John FJ Doe were molested by Thorpe and that Hanna Boys Center and its employees had knowledge that Thorpe was abusing teens on the campus and in his home, and that Hanna and its staff ignored evidence and actively covered up the abuse.

Finaldi said in a press release about this week’s filing, “The toxic environment at the Hanna Boys Center began at the top with the Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa and the Center’s (former) director Father John Crews. Child molestation was allowed to flourish, reports of abuse were dismissed, and victims were discouraged from coming forward. At risk children who were sent to this facility to be helped, had their lives destroyed.”

Manly, Stewart & Finaldi specializes in representing child victims of sexual abuse. The firm is best known for having represented plaintiffs successfully in a $140 million settlement against the Los Angeles School District and represented 180 alleged victims of U.S. Olympic gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar and Michigan State University in that case’s $500 million settlement.

“We only do this kind of work,” Finaldi told the Index-Tribune this week, adding that his firm has represented plaintiffs in lawsuits against the Santa Rosa diocese for years. “We have a wealth of knowledge (that we can draw on for this case.)”

According to the motion filed on Nov. 28, the brothers began attending Hanna in 2006, when they were 13 and 15 years old. Thorpe was their caseworker and counselor. It alleges that Thorpe had sexual conversations with the boys, played pornography for them and encouraged them to masturbate while he watched. It also alleges that he engaged in sexual activity with the boys on the Hanna campus.

“This abuse took place almost every day and continued for seven years,” said Finaldi.

The motion focuses on the issue of who knew about Thorpe’s abuse and when. The lawsuit alleges that Archbishop Hanna High School teacher Joseph Filice, a mandated reporter – meaning he’s required by law to report any suspicions of abuse – walked into Thorpe’s office and watched as Thorpe performed oral sex on MR Doe, exclaimed, “Oh my God,” and walked back out again.

Paul Gaspari, the attorney for Weintrob Tobin, the firm which represents Hanna Boys Center, said that Filice “emphatically and credibly denied this allegation at the preliminary hearing.”

Added Gaspari: “It is flat-out wrong.”

Filice worked at Hanna for more than 20 years and taught religion.

Finaldi said that he will present evidence that other staffers at Hanna were also aware of the abuse.

“Because he was found guilty in the criminal trial, we don’t need to prove that Thorpe abused the boys,” said Finaldi. “What we will focus on is who knew what was happening and when, who should have known, and what should have been done to prevent it. And how these actions have affected these boys’ lives.”

Thorpe had worked for Hanna for 14 years when he was arrested on June 10, 2017, after a former resident, now in his 20s, reported that he had been abused. Thorpe initially faced trial on 64 criminal counts but he pleaded no contest to just 11 in exchange for a reduced prison term. He is currently serving his time in North Kern State Prison, near Bakersfield.

The amended motion filed this week also includes new allegations against former long-time Hanna Executive Director Father John Crews. Crews resigned in 2013 following an allegation of sexual misconduct with a boy in the 1970s, prior to his arrival at Hanna. According to the complaint amendment, another former student has come forward to report that he was sexually abused by Crews in 1989 and 1990.

Finaldi said that the former student is not a plaintiff in this case but that Crews’ own history of alleged abuse “speaks to how he could have let this go on under his watch.”

The Santa Rosa Diocese is being defended by the Santa Rosa law firm of Shapiro Galvin, and Weintraub Tobin of San Francisco is representing Hanna Boys Center.

Any punitive damages will be determined by a jury trial.

Chris Jones, chief development officer at Hanna Boys Center, said that staff there declined to comment on the lawsuit but he clarified that this is “the only legal action outstanding against Hanna at this time.”

Email Lorna at lorna.sheridan@sonomanews.com.