California Six sisters sue agencies, claiming abuse missed

MARTINEZ, Calif. (AP) -- Six sisters who for years were sexually abused by their father with their mother's help have sued government entities and officials, claiming they failed to properly investigate their ordeal.

The women claim in a lawsuit filed last week that police and social workers missed a chance to ascertain the scope of the abuse in 1995, when they interviewed the sisters, then minors, in front of their parents, the Contra Costa Times reported Wednesday.

At the time, police in the family's hometown of Antioch were investigating rape allegations one of the girls had made against her father, Bruce "Zion" Dutro. He later pleaded guilty to one count of molestation and was sentenced to three years' probation.

However, by failing to properly follow procedures for exploring child abuse claims, authorities exposed the sisters to more years of even worse mistreatment, the six siblings say in the lawsuit naming Contra Costa County, the city of Antioch, five current and former police officers and Child Protective Services workers.

Amber Dutro, now 32, the eldest sister, said all of the girls were locked in bedrooms, beaten and starved after a pastor notified the parents that one of the sisters, then 14, had confided in him about being sexually abused. Their mother and father then instructed them on what to tell investigators, Amber Dutro said.

Social workers came to the family home 16 days later after being notified by police.

"We were exhausted and completely broken down, but we were going to put an end to it and tell them everything," Dutro said. "We never had the opportunity" because the social workers questioned the girls with their parents present, she said.

"They actually apologized to my parents for being there, as if it was an inconvenience," another sister, Martha McKnelly, 26, told the mewspaper.

The sisters agreed their names could be used when they spoke to the newspaper, which like most news outlets does not usually name child abuse victims.

Antioch City Attorney Lynn Tracy Nerland said it was a shame that law enforcement did not have a full picture of what was going on in the household, noting that when the sisters came forward as a group three years ago, prosecutors were able to secure the parents' convictions.

"Like everyone, we wish that this outcome had occurred sooner," Nerland told the Times.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages for negligence and suffering, also faults the pastor in whom the 14-year-old had confided for not going directly to the police, as well as a second pastor who allegedly did not contact police or Child Protective Services after another sister told him in 2002 that all of them were being abused.

Also named as a defendant is an Antioch police officer who is accused of sending the whole family home in August 1995 after the father allegedly confessed to molestation.

After his initial guilty plea, Bruce Dutro was required to register as a sex offender as part of his probation and moved out of the house for six months. But the mistreatment and neglect continued, the lawsuit maintains. The girls' mother, Glenda Dutro, moved in with him but would go by the house to pick up one of the girls to have sex with their father, said lawyer Jason Runckel, who represents the sisters.

Antioch police launched a more comprehensive investigation in 2009 when the women renewed their complaints.

In February 2011, Bruce Dutro pleaded guilty to six counts of molestation on a victim under 14 and was sentenced to life in prison. Glenda Dutro pleaded no contest to six sex crimes and was sentenced to 15 years.

Published: Fri, May 18, 2012