Attorneys for Hanna Boys Center abuse victims announce $6.8 million settlement involving Santa Rosa Diocese

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Lawyers for two brothers who were sexually abused by a former Hanna Boys Center clinical director announced Tuesday a $6.8 million settlement with the Sonoma Valley boys home and the affiliated Santa Rosa Diocese of the Catholic church.

It appears to be the largest single settlement over about a quarter century of sex abuse cases involving the Santa Rosa diocese, which as of May had paid out at least $31 million in settlements to victims of clergy abuse.

The settlement resolves a pair of lawsuits filed by the two brothers for suffering they endured as residents of the facility and well after they were no longer in contact with the clinical director, Kevin Thorpe, who was fired after his arrest two years ago and is now serving a 21-year prison sentence.

Southern California attorney Vince Finaldi, part of a team that worked on the case, said his clients, now in their 20s, are still working through the trauma of what were already troubled lives when they became victims of Thorpe, their case worker at the residential treatment facility.

“These are brave kids, that in many ways did not have any of the breaks that a lot of kids in America get,” Finaldi said. “They were born into a horrible home and horrible circumstances, and they found their way to the Hanna Boys Center and were targeted by this person and were not protected by the people who were supposed to protect them.”

Lawyers and representatives for the diocese and for Hanna Boys Center did not respond to numerous requests for comment and did not confirm the settlement Tuesday.

Hanna Boys Center Chief Executive Officer Brian Farragher said he was unsure a settlement was final and declined to comment until he could reach the nonprofit’s attorney, who was unavailable.

Santa Rosa Bishop Robert F. Vasa, who like his predecessors, sits on the board of trustees for the boys home, was not available for comment.

Finaldi said he was unable Tuesday to provide documents that would independently confirm the existence of the private settlement. The case was settled out of court through a mediator, he said.

He and Alex Cunny, a partner in their Irvine-based law firm, said the settlement was finalized about a month ago, before a June 7 trial, and the money had already been paid out. It was unclear to Finaldi how much the diocese, the boys center and their insurers each contributed to the sum.

The victims’ attorneys said they hoped the resolution would help their clients, who saw their abuser convicted a year ago in a no-contest plea deal. The criminal case against Thorpe, including 61 felony counts, stemmed from his abuse of four boys, including the two brothers. He is currently imprisoned in Corcoran and is eligible for parole in 2034.

Prosecution and conviction “is public affirmation that the abuse happened, and it’s punishment of their abusers,” Finaldi said. “It’s one step in their journey. But a lot of survivors don’t get that.”

The two young men have good and bad days, Finaldi said, and still have “these demons they have to deal with.”

During Thorpe’s sentencing last August, the younger boy, in a letter read aloud in court, described Thorpe’s presence as “a shadow I can’t escape.”

“Because of this, I can’t find joy in life anymore without these thoughts ruining it,” he wrote. “Sometimes I contemplate suicide. You didn’t just sexually abuse me. You groomed me to believe it was my fault.”

Thorpe, 41, worked at the venerable boys center for 14 years, first as a counselor and later as clinical director, until he was arrested in June 2017 after the younger of the brothers, born about two years apart, came forward to authorities about the abuse.

During testimony in criminal court, the younger brother described arriving at the school at age 13 in 2006 and finding refuge from a desperate, hungry childhood with an addicted mother and a violent father.

Each of the brothers had similar experiences with Thorpe, who soon after their arrival began asking them about sex, pornography and masturbation — talk that soon escalated into touching, trips off campus and intimate sexual conduct in his office and at his home. Each feared no one would believe them if they tried to turn him in, and that they would lose their place at the home as a result, according to court testimony and the civil litigation, filed in 2017.

The suits claim staff at Hanna Boys Center should have known Thorpe was engaged in improper conduct with the residents because of how often he took them off campus in his own car, among other signs. They described poor oversight and opportunities for staff to engage in misconduct.

One of the lawsuits named former Hanna religion teacher Joseph Filice as a defendant, claiming he walked into Thorpe’s office using a master key on one occasion and briefly and inadvertently witnessed a sexual act between the younger brother and Thorpe — an allegation Filice has repeatedly denied.

The other suit named as a defendant a staff member named Richard Coberly and claimed that his desk would have allowed him to see Thorpe leaving with the boy in his car repeatedly without signing him out as ostensibly was required.

Both boys were molested for the duration of their time at Hanna Boys Center — the youngest for more than five years, or what was estimated in his lawsuit to be about 260 instances of abuse.

Revelations about Thorpe’s misconduct and other allegations facing the boys center nearly led to its closure. The 74-year-old facility remains on probation after reaching an agreement with state regulators to tighten its employee training and oversight.

Former Hanna Boys Center director John S. Crews, who led the organization for 29 years, has himself been accused in recent months of sexual abuse by three former clients of the residential facility. Crews resigned in 2013 after allegations of sexual misconduct arose involving a former parishioner at St. Sebastian’s Church in Sebastopol.

As of May, the diocese had paid out at least $31 million in settlements to victims of clergy abuse since the 1990s, much of it in confidential agreements between the church and the private individuals.

Among the publicly known settlements, the highest, at $3.5 million, came in 2014 to the victim of a Lakeport priest, Rev. Ted Oswald. The diocese had paid out $1.3 million to two victims of Oswald five years earlier, in 2009. The recipient of the subsequent settlement was molested a year later, in some cases at the Lakeport parish church.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correctly reflect the facts surrounding John Crews’ resignation from Hanna Boys Center. He resigned and was not relieved of his duties.

You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 707-521-5249.

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