DSHS, CPS and the O.K. Boy’s Ranch

A former state social worker charged with 40 felony counts of possessing child pornography told his boss he had intimate relationships with young men in his care at the Department of Social and Health Services [DSHS,] the head of the department said [12 June 1996].

Said to be in his 50s,…Harold “Harry” Pitcock,…with DSHS’s Child Protective Services [CPS] for nearly eight years,…[was] accused by a 22-year-old man of abusing him and one other youth while they were minors under Pitcock’s supervision, according to court papers….

The case against him began May 28 [1996] when his supervisor in the Tacoma DSHS office received a written statement from a 22-year-old man who had been in state foster care. Pitcock had been his social worker, in charge of finding the boy a foster home and arranging counseling and other services for him.

The man said that when he was 17, he had “engaged in sexually explicit conduct” with Pitcock, then his DSHS caseworker, according to the charges. The man also said Pitcock photographed and videotaped him and other boys, and had shown him a collection of pornographic pictures and tapes. The man also said he knew of at least one other victim who had been a foster child under Pitcock’s supervision, [DSHS secretary Lyle] Quasim said…

Pitcock was arrested June 5 [1996] after the State Patrol searched his Pierce County home and found several homemade videotapes…– one labeled “Friends” – …and 350 photographs showing young boys engaged in sexual activity, according to papers filed by the Pierce County prosecutor….

The tapes and photographs were reviewed by an expert in sexual assault, who told prosecutors the boys in the pictures were under 18. One videotape also shows Pitcock was manning the camera, according to the charges….

Pitcock’s supervisor, John George, visited him in jail. [The following day,] after Pitcock admitted to having relationships with young men he was once charged with protecting, he was fired….

The case [was] the most recent of a number of scandals and embarrassments of DSHS. The department has been under fire for poor supervision of children in foster care; for failing to protect 3-year-old Louria Grace, who was killed by repeated abuse from her mother; and for failing to address physical and sexual abuse at the O.K.i Boys Ranch, an Olympia group home for…youths.1

“There’s no darker institution in the history of the state than the O.K. Boys Ranch,” said attorney Richard Kelley.2 In court papers, former residents described the [O.K.] Boys Ranch as “a jungle,” where older boys beat and molested younger residents3…[and] were subjected to physical and sexual abuse from…some staff members.4 Some were coerced into having sex, and several boys were found having an orgy at the [O.K. Boys Ranch] in July 1992….

In a deposition filed in the first of two civil suits against the state, the [O.K. Boys Ranch,] and the Kiwanis Club, which oversaw the operation, one abused boy said he asked [the director of the O.K. Boys Ranch] for help. He said he was told to learn how to fight….

They were forced to fight older boys, with staff members cheering them on and shouting instructions, according to the charging papers. In an initiation rite, described as “night terrorism,” new residents were beaten in their beds….

According to the attorney general’s charging papers, 10-year-old David was initiated to the [O.K. Boys Ranch] by being thrust into a circle with another boy, and forced to fight until one was knocked out or cried for mercy. Twelve-year-old Chris was welcomed to the [O.K.] Boys Ranch by being thrown in a pit where rocks were thrown at him. Ryan, 11, was subjected to nightly sexual assaults, accompanied by severe beatings.

Human feces were thrown at one resident, according to the attorney general’s investigation. Young boys were routinely beaten by staff and denied basic medical care.

If they complained, they were told to take care of themselves. They were forced to stand with their noses against a wall for as many as four hours; if they blinked, their time started over….

A number of incidents – like the 1994 orgy and beatings – are not in question. They were recorded in a behavioral log kept by staff at the [O.K. Boys Ranch]. One series of entries, for example, noted attacks on a 13 year old boy, including “Soap in a sock in the shower” and “Night terrorism.” 5

“[Former director of the O.K. Boys Ranch, Van Woerden, 55,6 former O.K. Boys Ranch assistant director and one time interim director Colette Queener,7 and former O.K. Boys Ranch caseworker, Laura Russell, 39,8] were the guardians of these boys who were raped for [more than] 15 years,” said attorney David Paul.9 They have denied any wrongdoing.10

They acknowledge there were some incidents. Some boys got into fights, experimented sexually and, in rare cases, were molested, they said…. “I think there would be a lot of parents with behavioral logs like ours,” Russell said.11

The state took no serious action until the [O.K. Boys Ranch] was shut down in 1994….

In 1988, [Art] Cantrell, the DSHS auditor, found financial problems and indications of sexual abuse at the [O.K. Boys Ranch]. The following year, [DSHS’s Steven] Ennett approved its relicensing; however, he never looked at behavioral logs kept by [O.K. Boys R]anch staff, where Cantrell found notations about sexual activity between the boys…. Several co workers and a supervisor had recommended to [DSHS’s Mark] Redal that Ennett be removed because of shoddy work. But Redal brushed aside the complaints – a move that bars the state from taking stronger action now….

Past State Patrol and DSHS investigations of the [O.K. Boys R]anch found inadequate CPS investigations helped cause the state to keep the [O.K. Boys Ranch] open for more than a decade…. [Kristy] Galt, Olympia area manager for the Division of Children and Family Services, was described in the State Patrol report…as “oblivious to situations.”… [And Cantrell] described her office as “the worst-managed” office in the state….

“No one in Galt’s office would go to her because they knew Galt would not give them any service or help,” said Diane Cote Smith, who worked for Galt in 1991…. Galt was reprimanded for not ensuring that investigations be done of child abuse complaints, and for not completing required annual performance evaluations of workers.12 [She] retains her [supervising13] position inside Department of Social and Health Services.14

The other two employees reprimanded…were Mark Redal and Steven Ennett…. The one worker fired was George Hartwell, a 26-year CPS veteran, who was accused of giving [O.K.] Boys Ranch staff a confidential police report of orgies that occurred at the [O.K. Boys Ranch] in 1992.15

Because some of those directly responsible for the OK Boys Ranch conditions had already been demoted or reprimanded, further action, including dismissal, appears impossible. The state looks as if it is bundled so tight by its own regulations, responsible officials are smothered in bureaucracy. That’s clearly unacceptable.

“These were the maximum sanctions that we could legally use,” Gov. Mike Lowry told a news conference.

But what about the system itself? What about a process where one person is fired but others directly responsible keep their jobs?... Closing the OK Boys Ranch took seven years after the first report of abuse and two years after police concluded boys were being raped. What took so long?...

Instead of acceptance of bureaucracy as its own reward, Lowry should be explaining what a sweeping restructuring of DSHS could accomplish…. Instead, it appears the governor will stroll to the end of his term leaving behind one of the nastiest blemishes on state governance in recent memory.16

i [O.K., short for “Old Kinderhook”, was President Martin Van Buren's nickname.] The office of Martin Van Buren was so corrupt that popular songs told of his willingness to sell anything for a price.
— “THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT: ORGANIZED CRIME AND THE IRS,” in The Anti-IRS News, June 1998, at http://www.anti-irs.com/newsletters/1998/Jun98.html.


1 David Postman, “Firing at DSHS over sex charges; man is arrested on 40 counts of child pornography,” The Seattle Times WEB ARCHIVE, 13 June 1996.

2 Kery Murakami, “Boys Ranch officials say they’ve become scapegoats for state,” The Seattle Times WEB ARCHIVE, 1 July 1996

3 Kery Murakami, “DSHS retains reprimanded boss; woman played role in Boys Ranch scandal,” The Seattle Times WEB ARCHIVE, 16 Aug 1996.

4 David Postman, “O.K. Boys Ranch case in doubt; decision undermines state’s charges,” The Seattle Times WEB ARCHIVE, 14 Nov 1996.

5 Murakami, “Boys Ranch officials.”

6 Op. cit.

7 Postman, “O.K. Boys Ranch case in doubt.”

8 Murakami, “Boys Ranch officials.”

9 Op. cit.

10 Postman, “O.K. Boys Ranch case in doubt.”

11 Murakami, “Boys Ranch officials.”

12 Murakami, “DSHS retains reprimanded boss.”

13 Op. cit.

14 Editorials, “Boys Ranch demonstrations should not close the file,” The Seattle Times WEB ARCHIVE, 19 Aug 1996.

15 Murakami, “DSHS retains reprimanded boss.”

16 “Boys Ranch demonstrations.”

See also

Abuse Reports at British Children's Home (27 Feb 2008)
misc. keywords: applied psychology