Salem-Keizer School District ignored 'red flags' of sex abuse for years, lawyer says

SALEM, Ore. -- In the summer of 2017, a former Salem woman learned about the arrest of her middle school physical education teacher, Shane Ross. 

The woman, now living far away from Salem and her old Parrish Middle School, was shocked.

She called police. Then she called an attorney.

For years, starting when she was only 12, Ross allegedly abused her — sometimes every school day — with Salem-Keizer School District officials ignoring glaring "red flags"  of sexual abuse, her attorneys claim.

And, she learned, he went on to allegedly abuse another girl. 

"So obviously, the main perpetrator is Shane Ross. But as an employee of the school district, he abused his position of power over our client and was ultimately able to exploit this relationship of trust," attorney Chris Best said. 

The Salem-Keizer School District is vicariously liable and responsible for its employees' actions, he said.

Best and fellow attorney Ron Sayer, both of the Gatti Law Firm in Salem, filed a tort claims notice in August announcing their intention to sue the school district. 

Ross, now 40, was arrested June 14 on 15 counts of child sex abuse. He is scheduled to appear in court again on Sept. 13. 

Best said they are waiting to file a civil lawsuit against the school district until Ross' criminal case is resolved. 

More: Salem-Keizer teacher abused former student for nearly six years, court records say

School officials declined to comment Thursday on the litigation, but stressed that district representatives are fully engaged with law enforcement to assist in the investigation.  

The tort notice letter alleges the following:

A few weeks into the 2001 school year, Ross began giving the girl, the daughter of a busy single mother, an inordinate amount of attention. After months of grooming, he kissed her in the equipment room of Parrish Middle School's gymnasium. 

The non-consensual kiss, coming from an adult man twice her age, confused and hurt the girl. 

Over the next three years, the abuse escalated. 

"By convincing (the victim) that there was nothing wrong with engaging sexually, Mr. Ross was able to use (her) for his own sick and demented sexual fantasies," the letter states.

At one point, the girl asked to be home schooled. She would still go to the middle school every day just for gym classes, sometimes spending the entire school day with Ross. 

More: Salem-Keizer teacher arrested on child abuse charges

The pattern continued until 2004. The girl was manipulated into thinking she and Ross were in a loving relationship.

"Once she stopped middle school, he was very blunt with her in saying that he had no interest in her what-so-ever," Best said. 

During this time, Best said Ross's actions and statements toward his victim should've alerted school staff to the abuse. The two were often left alone and were often caught together in the gym and equipment rooms when the girl was supposed to be being home schooled. 

At least one teacher reported Ross' s inappropriate sexual statements, conduct and the unnerving amount of attention to his victim to school administrators.

"At no time did any of the faculty or administrative staff perform any reasonable investigation despite these obvious red-flags," the letter states. 

The suspicions were never reported to law enforcement or human resources, Best said. 

Years passed, and the woman moved away. 

According to court records, Ross began abusing another girl in 2009 while he was still employed at Parrish Middle School. Salem police detectives started investigating Ross in 2017. 

Before he was placed on administrative leave during the investigation, Ross taught at five Salem-Keizer schools for more than 17 years. 

He joined Houck Middle School as a physical education teacher in 2000 and left in 2001.

He then transferred to Parrish Middle School to teach physical education and computer education.

He remained at Parrish until 2011, when he transferred to teach PE at Schirle Elementary School and Rosedale Elementary School at the same time. He divided his time teaching at both schools until 2012. 

In 2012, he transferred to Englewood Elementary School and taught PE until being placed on leave in March of this year.

News of Ross's arrest soon reached his previous victim. 

"Once she heard of the abuse, she decided to come forward in order to ensure that Mr. Ross was held accountable for his actions," Best said. 

Additional charges were filed against Ross in July after both women testified before a grand jury. 

Ross was re-arrested, held on $1 million bail and later released. He was ordered to have no contact with his victims and any minors besides his own children.

More: Salem-Keizer teacher charged with sexually abusing another student

Best said the civil lawsuit is needed to hold institutions like the school district accountable. It makes sure officials aren't turning a blind eye and helps protect children from predators. 

"In this day and age, there should be no excuse why a teacher could abuse a child for three years with several red flags ... and yet nothing was ultimately done enough to protect this young girl," Best said. 

School officials were negligent because they did not thoroughly investigate complaints against Ross. He said by failing to act on the complaints, they are responsible for the abuses that occurred after his client. 

According to court records, a five-year gap occurred between the two abuse cases. Based on his past experience representing victims, Best said he knows that perpetrators usually don't take a break from abusing children. 

"We do think there are other victims out there, and we hope there are others ... who can provide us with the information necessary for us to help our client seek the justice she deserves," he said. 

Investigators also said there may be additional victims and ask anyone with information regarding any inappropriate contact involving Ross to call the Salem Police Department Tip Line at 503-588-8477. 

© 2017 KGW-TV


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