Alleged sex abuse victims file $25M in claims against Kennewick School District

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Five men who say a retired Kennewick High School teacher molested them as students filed $25 million in claims Monday against the Kennewick School District.

All five say William Pickerel groomed them when he was a teacher and wrestling coach, sexually assaulting and molesting them at school, at his home or on out-of-town sports trips.

Each former student is seeking $5 million, according to legal documents delivered to the district.

Last month, Pickerel was released from prison after serving 51/2 years of a 10-year term for molesting five male students on sports outings. His term was shortened for good behavior.

Now 78, Pickerel is living in Seattle and registered as a Level 3 sex offender.

“What our clients really want is some acknowledgment of the pain and suffering and abuse they went through,” said attorney Jeff Kreutz with Tamaki Law in Kennewick.

District spokeswoman Robyn Chastain confirmed the district received the claims but said the district does not comment on pending litigation.

School officials have 60 days to respond to the claims. After that, the former students can file a lawsuit against the district.

Kreutz said other former students have contacted him and more claims are possible.

Of the five men who filed claims, one attended Kennewick High in the mid-1980s, three attended in the 1990s and another was a student as recently as the early 2000s.

Pickerel taught in Kennewick schools beginning in 1960, though most of his tenure was spent at Kennewick High.

He retired in 1998 but continued to work as an assistant wrestling coach until 2000. He was active as a substitute teacher until he was arrested in mid-October 2007.

He confessed to police that he molested numerous other boys through the years but prosecutors said more charges weren’t filed because either the boys weren’t identified or the statute of limitations had expired. He was scheduled to take a trip with three boys the day he was arrested.

One victim claims Pickerel sexually assaulted and molested him during school hours and wrestling practice at Kennewick High.

Four said they were abused during out-of-town trips to sporting events that Pickerel took several times a year with boys.

And two victims said they were abused at Pickerel’s Kennewick home.

Kreutz said his clients filed their claims anonymously because of the social stigma attached to being a male sexual abuse victim.

Washington law allows sexual abuse lawsuits to be filed with John or Jane Doe as the plaintiff, Kreutz said.

As a result it’s not clear if the former students who filed the claims are the same men involved in the criminal case.

At least two of them said in their claims that they told police of their abuse in 2007.

Also, three of the men said they are in therapy as a result of the sexual abuse.

“Some of the difficulties they’re having would break your heart,” Kreutz said. “It’s a terrible, terrible experience.”