|Latest Rose Case to Use New Information Gleaned from Earlier Sexual Abuse Lawsuits
By Dave Roepke
April 12, 2010
Bryan Sandness' story is so much like the others.
As a sophomore in 1978 at Shanley High School, his freshman religion teacher – Brother Raimond Rose – took him on an out-of-town trip, buying him a six-pack of Schlitz beer when they arrived at a hotel in Fergus Falls, Minn., Sandness said in an interview last week.
Passed out atop sheets of the motel bed later that night, Sandness woke up to Rose groping him.
"I looked over at him like, 'What the hell's going on.' I rolled over. He did it again. I rolled over again," Sandness said.
The allegations of sexual assault are at the heart of the dozen lawsuits in North Dakota and Minnesota in which the plaintiffs accuse both the schools at which Rose taught and Catholic groups they say oversaw him of ignoring prior complaints about the teacher.
"Almost every single one of these cases is exactly the same," said St. Paul attorney Patrick Noaker, who represents the alleged victims of Rose. "He has an absolute MO."
Despite the similarity of the accusations, a lawsuit filed in Cass County District Court on March 16 by Sandness, referred to in the complaint as John Doe 143, has two unique benefits for the plaintiffs, Noaker said.
For one, the complaint – which was also filed in Otter Tail County District Court, as that's where the sex abuse is claimed to have occurred – is the first of four North Dakota lawsuits to use new information Noaker said was gleaned from discovery in earlier lawsuits and continuing investigation.
That includes a history of where Rose was assigned and a claim that in 1977, a year into a four-year stint ending in 1980 at Shanley – Rose's longest stay at any school – a student's mother reported that Rose sexually abused her son.
According to the civil complaint, the abuse was reported to Shanley, the Catholic Diocese of Fargo and the Christian Brothers of the Midwest – the Chicago-based Catholic order that ran the school at the time and of which Rose is a member. Earlier lawsuits had already claimed the Christian Brothers took a report about Rose sexually abusing a child in 1966.
"It's turning out there's a pretty significant body of information that was presented to them and disregarded," Noaker said. "It's sad. It shouldn't have ever happened."
Steven Plambeck, a Fargo attorney representing the school in the other cases, said, "We have no information" about the 1977 report mentioned in the Sandness lawsuit. He referred questions to the spokeswoman for the Fargo Diocese, Tanya Watterud.
The Fargo Diocese won't address inquiries related to pending litigation "out of respect for the integrity of the legal process," she said in a statement.
A phone message left Friday for Robert Stitch, a Minneapolis attorney for the Christian Brothers, wasn't returned.
In paperwork filed in earlier lawsuits, lawyers for the Christian Brothers and those representing the school, diocese and Bishop Samuel Aquila have denied knowing of a 1966 report of Rose molesting a student.
Rose, who has never been convicted of a sex crime, didn't mount an argument in his responses to the first three lawsuits in North Dakota, instead invoking his "privilege against self-incrimination under the North Dakota and United States constitutions."
"Isn't that something," Noaker said of Rose's court filings. "I think it's just condemning."
Rose's attorney, Thomas Christensen of St. Cloud, Minn., declined comment, saying he doesn't publicly discuss ongoing litigation.
None of the three groups of defendants – Rose, the Christian Brothers or the diocesan parties – has filed replies yet to the Sandness lawsuit. In the previous suits, attorneys for the defendants have argued for the cases to be thrown out on a variety of grounds.
Attorneys for Shanley, the Fargo Diocese and Bishop Samuel Aquila have argued the defendants didn't establish a claim and that the First Amendment prevents courts from hearing the case. They've also argued Rose wasn't employed by the school or the diocese.
Two judges have denied dismissal motions from the diocesan defendants, and similar motions will be heard next month in Cass County.
In one case, Aquila was removed from a lawsuit, as Judge John Irby said it was "basically duplicating the case against the diocese."
Defenses made in filings by the Christian Brothers have not yet been argued, but one argues the statute of limitations has passed.
Noaker said the Sandness lawsuit should be able to avoid that argument because of a second unique element about the case: Sandness joined the U.S. Marines at age 18 and retired five years ago.
There's a federal law that halts time limits on civil actions for military personnel, Noaker said, meaning that Sandness' lawsuit was filed in time to beat the six years after the age of 18 a defendant has to file such a claim in Minnesota.
Noaker said he believes the other cases were filed in time, as well, but, "this particular case probably won't be subject to that haggling."
Having an ex-Marine as a defendant has other advantages, said Bob Schwiderski, Minnesota director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests – a victim advocacy nonprofit that's worked with defendants in the Rose cases.
"In essence, he's a role model for breaking the code of silence," he said.
Sandness, a Marine drill instructor for six years, said it wasn't hard to come forward after 30 years.
"It was kind of a moral decision. OK, this is what happened. This is what I had to deal with," he said.
Raised a Lutheran, he wanted to go to Shanley so badly he worked at the school to pay his own tuition. In an era when many of his friends were getting into marijuana, Sandness said he was drawn to the school's discipline and prestige.
He still credits going to Shanley as a motivation to join the service.
Asked what he'd like to come of the lawsuits, his answer is plain: "I would like people to be held responsible."
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