If anyone was surprised that 34-year-old Barry Lee Krantz would rape a six-year-old Seattle girl, it likely wasn't any of the estimated 400 women to

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The cost of pain

A landmark court decision holds government liable for the rape of a young girl.

If anyone was surprised that 34-year-old Barry Lee Krantz would rape a six-year-old Seattle girl, it likely wasn't any of the estimated 400 women to whom Krantz figured he'd exposed himself over the years.

Of course, that random estimate was itself made more than a dozen years ago, and Krantz went on to expose himself to more women. Besides, he was only guessing: After a few hundred lewd exhibitions, he'd lost actual count.

Likely not surprised by the attack either was the counselor who heard Krantz's 400-exposures claim back in 1987 during a court-ordered psychological assessment. Words such as "predatory," "premeditated," and "compulsive" came to mind as the counselor listened to the Ballard repairman recount a history of sexual fantasizing, exhibitions, and public masturbation.

As the counselor later wrote in an assessment, Barry Krantz was a certifiable sexual deviant and a remorseless violator convicted of lewd conduct four times in the 1980s. He showed little empathy for his victims, whom he confronted or attacked after he'd gotten drunk or snorted cocaine.

Most certainly, the counselor felt, Krantz was progressing toward violence and would go on to commit new sex crimes. And indeed he did, culminating in the rape of the grade-schooler in 1990, leaving her emotionally scarred and wanting to die.

So what was Krantz doing on the streets? It turns out that at the time of the rape he was under the supervision of two courts: city Municipal Court, on probation for a misdemeanor exposure sex crime, and county District Court, on pretrial release for a sexually motivated burglary.

Seattle and King County court officials—the ones most likely to know of Barry Krantz's deviant history—were surprised at the rape nonetheless. Something had gone wrong, and they were sorry. Still, theirs are courts of limited jurisdiction and control over the accused and convicted criminals they supervise. If nothing else, the local courts weren't legally responsible for an individual's wrongful acts.

Or so they thought.

Krantz, now 43, is surprising no one these days. He's in prison until 2021 for raping the little girl. But his crimes have returned to haunt the city and county court systems that, the State Supreme Court now says, failed to properly restrain and monitor him.

In a little-noticed decision that grew out of the tragic case, on June 24 the state high court ruled 6-3 that cities and counties now can be held legally liable for those who commit new crimes while under community supervision. The landmark decision has thrown the local court supervision programs into quiet chaos.

"Obviously, this poses tremendous risk-management challenges for the city and county," says assistant city attorney Sean Sheehan, who handled the case appeals. "This decision involves hundreds, thousands of people under court supervision, and in essence it says we are responsible for all of them all the time." It poses a huge burden of potential lawsuits on jurisdictions formerly immune from them, he explains.

Ironically, says King County District Court presiding judge Jim Cayce, the ruling has in one way actually increased public safety risks. The county has ordered its probation officers to follow court guidelines to the letter, limiting an officer's discretion.

"For instance," Cayce says, "a probation officer may want to closely track a particular defendant, but must strictly follow the guidelines which allow only one per-month visit with the defendant. If we allow individual officers to exercise judgment, then we face potential liability. The result is less financial risk to the county but an increased risk to public safety."

The high court decision—extending the same legal liabilities the court earlier applied to state supreme courts and parole systems—means any local agency that shirks or fails its criminal supervisory responsibility can be sued. The county and city insisted that legally they had "no duty" to protect the public from the individual acts of Krantz. But the high court said that duty exists due to a "special relation" between the courts and those under their supervision.

Sheehan still thinks that logic is a "fiction" and hopes the high court will visit the issue again someday. Commonly, "the rule of law is that people are not responsible for what other people do, and in cases where a government body takes charge, and a responsibility applies, those cases usually involve prison, the military, and so on, where there is physical control," he says.

"The city and district courts don't have that control. We schedule appointments, check if they have work, all with limited contact. We can't arrest violators either, as the state can." Most puzzling, he says, is applying the law to pretrial release programs, "before a person has even been convicted."

Justice Phil Talmadge was worried enough about the effects of the ruling that he publicly urged legislative action to cap local liability. More supervision officers and counselors may also be needed for chronically understaffed programs, and more jail time looms for suspects in already overcrowded jails.

"We're in discussion with court and probation officials right now," says Sheehan. "We're working on solutions, but there's no magic bullet." City and county officials do plan to lobby the legislature to limit liability, he adds. The county is also now requiring cities that contract with the district court to indemnify and hold the county harmless from liability. Several cities have balked at that demand, Judge Cayce says, and are weighing their options.

Indirectly, the high court decision also points the finger at Krantz's judges. They're the first line of defense, and some didn't seem to grasp his repetitious record of arrest, hearing, release, and reoffense—particularly in 1990 when Krantz was charged with breaking into a woman's home and masturbating. Though still on city probation for a 1989 lewd conduct violations, he was released by a county judge through the county pretrial supervision program. At a subsequent probation hearing on the city charge, Krantz was also not detained by a city judge after he promised to seek treatment and stay clean.

"How did this guy get out? That's what I was asking when I read the case," says attorney Cathy Zavis of the Northwest Women's Law Center, who filed a brief supporting the girl, represented by Janet L. Rice of Schroeter Goldmark & Bender (who was on vacation last week). "We're [jailing] first-time drug offenders but releasing people in pending cases of violence?"

It's not clear if judges in the two cases were informed of Krantz's earlier 400-exposures statement or that a counselor had recently described Krantz as a high-risk offender who should be "locked up for as long as possible" if he reoffended. But a doctor warned one court of a "disturbing" history of monitoring lapses in Krantz's past releases.

Those lapses went from disturbing to critical in the next two months. Krantz was required to see his city probation officer only once and at that meeting was told he didn't have to return for six more months. The city's Municipal Probation division admits those decisions were based on an established risk-assessment plan used as a guide by probation officers. As a result, the city bet against odds that Krantz wouldn't return to cocaine and booze—and lost.

Meanwhile, Krantz was to report to a King County Court Services-supervised release official three times a week. He did check in, usually by phone, merely promising he was clean.

In effect, Krantz was left to do as he wished. And on October 6, 1990, he did— returning to a Wallingford home where the handyman had recently repaired a window (which he'd intentionally left unlocked). After breaking in and raping the girl, he held a knife on her adult baby-sitter, forcing her to watch him masturbate.

The Olympia ruling is a bittersweet victory for the little girl, now a teenager. Using razors to slash herself, she tried to commit suicide after the attack. The court decision allows the girl's legal guardian to continue to seek potentially millions in damages for her trauma and its aftermath. The court also ordered Krantz's medical records be opened for legal discovery by the girl's attorneys. Currently, the city and county are weighing whether to continue to defend against the claim or settle out of court.

Krantz pled guilty in 1991 and was given an exceptional sentence of 30 years in prison. He will be over 70 should he live to his prison release date. But to some he has also unintentionally helped repair an unsafe process.

"The ruling," says Nancy Saprio, counsel for the Northwest Women's Law Center, helps insure that "strict guidelines are in place for the release of violent perpetrators," especially sex offenders and spousal abusers. If it's a costly ruling, she thinks, it's a bargain in human savings.

 
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