THE FAMILY of a 15-year-old girl sexually abused by a TriMet bus driver last year has filed a $1.1 million suit in state civil court accusing the transit agency of knowing about the driver's illicit relationship with the girl and failing to intervene.
Christopher Parker, 54, was arrested, and then fired, in May 2011 for abusing the girl. Parker was charged with online sexual corruption of a child—sending her hundreds of sexual emails and text messages—and third-degree sex abuse, for groping. He pleaded guilty in October and was sentenced to four months in prison.
But the girl's family now says TriMet is also to blame. One of the top complaints in the lawsuit, filed Tuesday, April 10, says TriMet twice reprimanded Parker for allowing the girl to remain on the bus with him, alone, during breaks or after his shift, but never contacted the girl's parents or changed his route, even after learning she was a minor.
"We think they had plenty of knowledge of what was going on," says the family's attorney Kelly Clark. "It's clear that their training and policy on child abuse was lacking."
The suit also says other TriMet employees knew about the abuse. One driver allegedly threatened the girl into silence, saying Parker's inevitable death in prison would be her fault. By failing to "instruct its employees not to facilitate communications" between the two, the suit claims that TriMet is partly responsible.
A TriMet spokeswoman declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.
Drawing from his history filing child-abuse cases, Clark says TriMet has a couple of legal options: Settle, or go to court. If TriMet goes to court, Clark says he wouldn't be surprised if the agency's defense counsel tried to blame the victim.
But he can't say if it'll get to that point. "It will turn largely on TriMet's assessment down the road as a large, public corporation," says Clark. "They know there are some things they could have done differently."
While the girl's parents want to obtain justice for their daughter, Clark says they also want to prevent this from happening to others. "This is how they can make a change for the better, like what we're seeing in the Catholic Church," says Clark, who's also worked church abuse cases. "It's not that the bishops got the Holy Spirit and reformed—they got sued. It's the same thing here."