9 women groped by state trooper share nearly $2 million settlement

By Tracy Johnson, Seattle P-I

The Washington State Patrol will pay almost $2 million to nine women for their claims that a state trooper pulled them over and groped them underneath their clothes while pretending to search them.

Each woman will receive between $60,000 and $380,000 to settle her lawsuit against the State Patrol, Assistant Attorney General Rene Tomisser said Friday.

The lawsuits involve former trooper Michael Idland, who was convicted last year of groping the women — in most cases after stopping them for potential drunken-driving arrests on the state Route 520 Bridge.

One of the women — a 25-year-old Seattle resident who said she can’t forget being "overly frisked" on the side of the freeway — said she hopes the state will do everything it can to make sure no more troopers abuse the power of their badge.

"I can’t even imagine anybody else feeling the way he made me feel, so degraded as a woman. I felt so powerless," she said. "I don’t even drive anymore."

Tomisser said the State Patrol admitted no wrongdoing, though he said Chief John Batiste has already made changes to help prevent such incidents. One is making sure sergeants spend more time supervising their troopers in the field.

The settlement was reached last Friday in a mediation session involving Batiste and the women. The chief told them he was sorry and he couldn’t imagine how he’d feel if something similar happened to one of his three daughters, according to Tomisser.

"There was a fair amount of emotion in the room, understandably," Tomisser said.

Each woman had the chance to tell the chief her story. Some still have painful flashbacks about what happened and difficulty trusting people, said Seattle attorney David Gehrke, who represented four of the victims.

"We’re pleased with the settlement," said attorney Steve Fogg, who represents a woman who was just 18 when she encountered Idland. "I think we both feel the State Patrol stepped up to the plate and took responsibility for this."

Capt. Jeff DeVere said State Patrol officials believe the settlement is "the right thing to do."

Idland, who maintained he did nothing wrong, entered a modified guilty plea to three counts of sexual misconduct last year and spent almost 17 months in jail. A King County Superior Court judge also ordered him to pay more than $40,000 in fines and jail costs.

The women’s lawyers claimed the State Patrol had more than enough reason to fire Idland long before the allegations of sexual misconduct came to light.

His performance was poor enough in April 2002 that his superiors gave him a mandatory job-performance improvement plan.

A 10th woman whom Idland is convicted of groping did not file a lawsuit and was so traumatized she moved out of the state, Gehrke said.

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