A federal jury has ordered the District government to pay $550,000 to the family of a boy who was terrorized and sexually abused at a city-run summer camp when he was left alone with an older camper.
After hearing testimony from the victim and other young campers, a U.S. District Court jury Thursday found that the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation was negligent and failed to protect him during his five-day stay in July 2001 at Camp Riverview, a retreat in St. Mary's County.
"The majority of our case was having kids testify on video or live about what happened to them at camp," said Peter C. Grenier, who represented the family with Douglas E. Fierberg, also of the law firm Bode & Grenier. "They were left alone every night in the cabin and either had to fend off this monster or heard the screams."
The victim and most of the other boys at the camp were 10, he said. The older camper was 12.
Grenier said yesterday that the first witness in the five-day trial was another boy who was sexually assaulted in the cabin by the same older camper. The District has paid $371,000 to settle that case.
The District denied wrongdoing during the trial and said there was no way it could know the children were endangered. The children said they complained about the older boy's bullying, but a government attorney said they did not make specific allegations of sexual assault.
Traci Hughes, a spokeswoman for the D.C. attorney general's office, said the city is planning to appeal the verdict and is exploring its options.
The St. Mary's sheriff's office investigated the sexual abuse allegations. The older camper was charged with second-degree sexual assault and perverted acts. Because juvenile proceedings generally are not public, the outcome of that case is unclear. The Washington Post typically does not identify juvenile victims or suspects.
The victim told the panel of eight jurors via videotape that the older camper tried to rape him in the shower. He said he complained to counselors, one of whom punched the older boy in the chest and told him to stop it.
Later, when no adults were around, the victim said, the older camper molested him in his cabin.
The victim's mother, 51, said yesterday that she was so distressed by her son's often graphic testimony that she had to leave the courtroom.
"Imagining that my son went through what he went through . . . hit my heart," she said. "When I came home, I just held him so tight."
She said she reluctantly agreed when her son asked to go to camp and was reassured that the camp was in Maryland, which was "better than being in D.C. with so much going on." But she said she knew something was terribly wrong when he got home.
"He wasn't smiling or laughing," she said. "He was down."
The camp, according to numerous depositions of counselors, camp officials and the boys who stayed there, routinely flouted its rules about supervising the children.
"They were supposed to supervise the kids 24-7, but they left them alone," Grenier said. The older boy "had been a camper there for several years and was a known bully who needed to be watched. . . . The other kids testified how they could hear the bunk shake and heard [the victim] yell, 'Stop!' "
Camp Riverview, in Scotland, was intended as a getaway for less-fortunate District children who could not afford other summer camps. It is under new management and has tightened supervision for children at night and when they go to the showers or bathrooms.
Grenier said the jury's award will help pay for the victim's ongoing psychiatric treatment and will be controlled by a court-appointed guardian until the boy is 18.
The mother said she hopes she and her husband and two sons can soon move. It's a bad environment for the family, she said, particularly because they still see the boy's abuser in the neighborhood.