California

Brothers abused at boys’ center linked to Santa Rosa Catholic diocese receive $6.8M

Robert Kennedy, center, speaks during a press conference while flanked by attorneys Dan Beck, right, and Rachael Mache at the Hanna Boys Center in Sonoma on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. Kennedy and his brother, allegedly abused at the Hanna Boys Center, announced a $6.8 million settlement with the school. (/ )
Robert Kennedy, center, speaks during a press conference while flanked by attorneys Dan Beck, right, and Rachael Mache at the Hanna Boys Center in Sonoma on Wednesday, June 26, 2019. Kennedy and his brother, allegedly abused at the Hanna Boys Center, announced a $6.8 million settlement with the school. (/ ) Santa Rosa Press Democrat

A scandal-plagued center for troubled youth in California’s wine country will pay nearly $7 million to two brothers who suffered years of sexual abuse at the facility, attorneys for the two men announced Wednesday.

Sonoma’s Hanna Boys Center, a residential treatment center overseen by the Diocese of Santa Rosa, will pay $6.8 million to the brothers who were groomed and molested by their casewoker and counselor, beginning in 2006 when the pair were 13 and 15. The sum is believed to be the single highest settlement paid out by the Santa Rosa diocese, plaintiffs’ attorneys told The Sacramento Bee.

At least $31 million in settlements had been paid out by the Santa Rosa diocese to victims of clergy abuse as of May, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported.

“This lets the victims know that they don’t have to live in silence anymore. People will listen to us. They will believe us,” former Hanna student Robert Kennedy said in an interview with the Sacramento Bee after the announcement.

Kevin Scott Thorpe, who was also the center’s clinical director, was sentenced in August 2018 to 21 years in state prison for his crimes against Kennedy, Kennedy’s brother and two others committed at the center and his home.

Hanna Boys Center nearly lost its license in 2017 over Thorpe’s abuse of his victims and the facility’s failure to act, the Press Democrat reported in 2018.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys alleged years of rampant abuse “existed and thrived” at Hanna and that the center “engaged in repeated concealment of sexual abuse (and) sexual abusers.”

The court filings lay out a damning account of nearly unlimited access and unchecked abuse of students by Thorpe all while Hanna staff looked the other way in describing a “toxic environment” at the center that discouraged staff from reporting sexual harassment and abuse.

One Hanna staffer, a mandated reporter, walked into Thorpe’s office as Thorpe was orally copulating a student, a plaintiffs’ punitive damages motion alleged. Attorneys in the document later alleged Thorpe pulled other students from class without notice and was alone with the minors for hours while other staffers “were wondering what happened to these children.” State regulators said at least seven Hanna residents had been molested by Thorpe, according to the Press-Democrat.

Kennedy said he was 13 when Thorpe “started asking me about masturbation when I first got to Hanna” in 2006. Kennedy said a year of advances passed before the sexual activity started.

The damage done at Hanna followed him into young adulthood. Kennedy said he was kicked out of college; was couch surfing at friends’ homes.

“I wondered if I was suffering in silence,” Kennedy said Wednesday.

Kennedy joined plaintiffs’ attorney Dan Beck outside the Hanna center for the announcement. They were later met by Hanna Boys Center CEO Brian Farragher who expressed sadness at what happened to Kennedy and other victims, but did not use the words abuse or sexual assault to describe the events.

“I can’t express how sad and troubled we are about the events that have taken place here. It is our commitment to do everything we can to make sure that it never happens again here and also do our level best to help anybody who was hurt,” Farragher said at the news conference, excerpts of which appeared in the Sonoma Index-Tribune. “We can’t undo the past but we can do a better job moving forward.”

Farragher concluded his remarks by apologizing personally to Kennedy and appealing to other victims to come forward with their stories of abuse: “Robbie, I’m sorry for your pain and your struggles and we’re very grateful, actually, that you came forward.”

Hanna Boys Center, established in 1949, “changes the lives of at-risk, motivated teens through faith, education and caring,” its website reads.

But attorneys for the Kennedys and others molested by Thorpe say in Sonoma Superior Court documents that the school’s mission statement was belied by Hanna’s “systemic problems with child molestation, a culture of abuse and sexual harassment and complete indifference towards the safety of minors.”

“There was a comprehensive, total culture of silence,” Beck said Wednesday. “These boys were tossed out in the cold, used and abused.”

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