Seattle Catholic prep school pays $2.4M to former student over sex abuse claims

MyNorthwest [Seattle WA]

March 7, 2024

By Kate Stone

A private Catholic high school in Seattle is paying more than $2.4 million to a former student claiming she was groomed, harassed and sexually abused by a teacher for years.

The unnamed former student also accused administrators at Seattle Preparatory School of ignoring the abuse throughout her four years there.

“The ongoing abuse I suffered at Seattle Prep has had a devastating impact on my life — then, after, now and will going forward,” she said in a press release. “Seattle Prep leaders did everything possible for years to bury the truth about the abuse and what they knew. They did all they could to destroy me just to protect their reputation.”

The teacher at the center of the settlement is Jeff Pietz, who also served as a coach and athletic director at the school beginning in 1992. According to documents from the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), Pietz left the school voluntarily in 2006.

The documents identify more former students with whom Pietz is alleged to have had close personal contact, both on and off school grounds.

This included “flirting with these students, paying more attention to them, and (having) inside jokes with them.”

The behavior also involved taking a female student to the mall to go shopping for her boyfriend and taking her and other students out to eat outside of school hours, according to OSPI.

“He would groom them while they were students. He would literally wait hours after they had graduated, then he would initiate what had been, his grooming efforts into a sexual, physical, sexual relationship,” said Darrell Cochran of Seattle-based law firm Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala PLLC.

Cochran is representing the former student and believes more people will come forward.

“It didn’t just happen one time. It happened at least four times by his own admission, and perhaps many more, which is what I believe,” he said.

Former student claims Seattle Prep teacher sexually abused her

Cochran’s client, referred to as “Student A” in OSPI documents, attended Seattle Prep from 1999-2003 and was on the girls’ softball team there. Pietz was a coach and math teacher at the time. She said he would talk to her about personal matters, call and text her after school hours, share inside jokes and nicknames with her, go shopping to look at prom dresses with her and a few teammates on a team trip and pay her special attention.

While the former student said Pietz did not have intercourse with her while she was underage, she claimed physical sexual abuse did occur.

“If he’s touching her thighs and he’s caressing her and he’s acting like that’s just a friend making contact, it’s for sexual gratification and grooming. And that is under Washington law considered to be physical sexual abuse,” said Cochran.

Pietz admitted to state officials he “had a stronger relationship and emotional connection with Student A when she was a student because they interacted all the time and that he had a sexual relationship with Student A beginning within a day of graduation and continuing during the summer after she graduated, when she was 18 years old.”

In another incident involving “Student B,” Pietz admitted he tried to kiss her but stated that this occurred in 2006, four years after Student B graduated. She alleges, however, that it happened in 2002 shortly after she left Seattle Prep.

Two more claims were later recorded from a “Student C” and “Student D.”

In the last case, which happened in 2006, Cochran said Seattle Prep hired an outside law firm to investigate.

In an interview with KIRO Newsradio, Cochran quoted a statement recorded in the minutes of a Seattle Prep board of directors meeting in 2006.

“For many years, I’ve been aware of the perception of inappropriateness as it relates to Jeff’s relationships with our female athletes,” one board member reportedly said. “Our daughter, a big fan of Jeff’s, confirms that she and her friends think it is ‘a bit weird’ how he hangs out with all the girls he coaches.”

She continues, “Frankly, when we were briefed at the last board meeting about the prospect of allegations of sexual misconduct by a coach, there were at least six of us in the room that I know of who believed it was Jeff.”

According to state records, Pietz was not disciplined after the investigation concluded. He voluntarily resigned the same year.

In 2010, Pietz became athletic director at Lakeside High School near Spokane where he also coached girls’ basketball. He retained that position until 2020 when Cochran said his client alerted the state to Pietz’s actions and OSPI initiated an investigation.

In September 2023, OSPI and Pietz reached a mutual agreement to suspend his teaching license for 12 months. As part of the suspension agreement, Pietz acknowledged “unprofessional conduct” and a lack of “good moral character.”

“It’s not permanently revoked. I think he has the ability to be reinstated, which would be tragic in our opinion, dangerous in our opinion,” said Cochran.

Seattle Prep has dealt with an abusive staff member before

Cochran and his client also said this wasn’t the first time Seattle Prep had dealt with a sexually abusive staff member.

Richard Perry was added to a list of Catholic clergy credibly accused of sexual abuse in 2020, according to records from Gonzaga Preparatory School.

“Father Perry, who is a Jesuit priest, was an educator at Seattle Prep, and he had been sexually abusing students well before this time period,” Cochran said.

Perry had been assigned to Gonzaga Prep from 1964-67 and again from 1971-76, when he left for Seattle Preparatory.

In February 2020, a former Seattle Prep student came forward accusing Perry of sexual abuse during the late 1970s and early 1980s. After an investigation, evidence confirmed Perry’s sexual abuse of a minor. He was removed from ministry in July 2020 and sent to live at Sacred Heart Jesuit Center in California, according to a statement from Jesuits West.

Cochran also said a coach who worked alongside Pietz sometime around 2006 was criminally convicted after claims of abuse.

“Seattle Prep educators and staff all would have had a responsibility to have been reporting red flags that they saw with Jeff Pietz or any other coach or staff member,” Cochran said. “Under Washington State’s Education rules, teachers are mandatory reporters.”

Cochran believes there is a bigger and more universal story to be told, illustrated by this case.

“The persistence of institutions like Seattle Prep, the Catholic Church, the State and others to turn a blind eye to sexual abuse, then do everything possible to hide it,” he said. “Perpetuate the culture that allows it. It makes it extremely difficult and traumatic for survivors to come forward and seek change and justice to prevent future abuses.”

Seattle Prep settles with student over accusations

The school is admitting no wrongdoing as it settles the claims of sexual abuse, sexual harassment, negligence and other damages against “Student A.” She believes Seattle Prep leaders offered the settlement to avoid a trial that would have further exposed their wrongdoing.

“The school’s actions underscore just how cruel and devastating the process of reporting abuse is for survivors,” she said. “The term I’ve come to learn is ‘Institutional Betrayal.’ When an institution you are supposed to trust, such as your school, betrays you in the worst possible way, it compounds the trauma you’re already working through.”

KIRO Newsradio has reached out to Seattle Prep for comment. Contact information for Jeff Pietz could not be immediately located.

You can read more of Kate Stone’s stories here. Follow Kate on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.