Lancaster County has agreed to pay a total of $1.3 million to five women who as minors were sexually assaulted by a county employee at the Youth Intervention Center.
Along with a $400,000 paid to another victim earlier this year, the payments represent one of the largest settlements in the county’s history.
The county itself is paying $375,000 of the $1.3 million, while the rest is paid by the county's insurance agent.
In 2017, David Stevenson, a former guard at the Youth Intervention Center who worked at the Lancaster County Youth Intervention Center from 2016 to 2017, was charged with multiple counts of sexual assault against five girls living at the facility.
He was sentenced in June 2018 to 10 to 25 years in state prison after pleading guilty and no contest to a score of sex abuse charges involving five girls at the county-run shelter. Six victims eventually went on to sue him, the county and other county employees.
All cases have now settled.
“There is a powerful story to tell behind each case,” Chris Lyden, a Lancaster-based attorney who represented the women, said via email. “However, settling the litigation will allow the plaintiffs to move forward with their lives. We were glad to see the County was willing to reach an agreement and resolve this matter.”
Lyden’s cases, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, centered on how much the county knew and when the county knew it. He and the victims alleged in their filings that there were numerous indications throughout Stevenson’s employment that he was a risk to the juveniles in the facility.
Although the county has previously declined to comment on the cases, due to ongoing litigation, a statement provided by Chief Clerk Larry George on behalf of the county detailed actions the county had taken.
“These (changes) include: the addition of many state-of-the-art cameras with wide-view and zoom capabilities that eliminate obstructed locations, and their constant monitoring; enhanced background and employment verification checks for prospective employees, including the most stringent Childline and FBI clearance policies; the embrace of (Prison Rape Elimination Act) ‘best practices’ methods of reporting abuse or mistreatment, including the placement of locked drop-boxes and YWCA hotline access to every resident; and increased boundary-issue awareness trainings for staff,” The statement read in part. “Additionally, we are continuing to review policies and procedures to make further improvements where necessary, including the expectation of enhanced hypervigilance by all staff at the facility.”
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In February, LNP|LancasterOnline met with one of Stevenson’s victims at her lawyer’s office to hear how her life has been impacted by the experience. It is this newpaper’s policy not to identify victims of sexual assault unless requested by the victim. The woman is now an adult and still lives in Lancaster.
Q: What are you doing now?
A: “I’m working. I’m in college. I’ve been okay. I have two cats now.”
She is now studying criminal justice and would someday like to be a crime scene investigator.
Q: How have you felt since leaving the Youth Intervention Center?
A: “It’s been… I don’t know how to describe it. Sometimes I’m okay. Sometimes I’m not. At first it was difficult to adjust but now since it’s been a while, it’s been a few years, I’m okay. ... I kind of felt like a child at first, like I had to relearn everything. Relearn how to be social. But now I’m okay.”
Q: Did you feel like as the events with Mr. Stevenson were unfolding, the staff at the facility were being responsive?
A: “The really didn’t care, in my opinion. That’s why I didn’t really take it further than complaining to certain staff once I realized they weren’t doing anything. They don’t care about us. They’re just here to do their job and that’s it.”
She said that she felt reports were taken of the residents’ complaints only so the employees could say they followed procedure but not in earnest to protect the residents. She also felt that if cameras had been checked and complaints thoroughly investigated, this might not have happened
Q: How did this experience impact you?
A: “I’m more cautious. I kind of realized you don’t have anyone else but yourself. Not everyone has your best interest at heart. (Stevenson) was supposed to be someone who looked out for us. ... So for someone who is supposed to be taking care of us to do this to us kind of opened my eyes like ‘you can’t put anything past anyone.’”
Q: Outside of work and school, what do you like to do these days?
A: “I write music. I take care of my cats. I like to play around with make-up. … I started writing (music) actually, when I was in the Youth Intervention Center. I was actually sexually assaulted when I was younger, so one of my very first writings was about that. (It was shown) to some people and they really liked it so I kept writing music. So I took it from there and I’ve still been writing since.”