Judge awards $16M to sexual assault victim at East Grand Forks treatment center
ST. PAUL—A Minnesota judge has awarded $16 million in damages to a former patient of an East Grand Forks drug treatment center who was sexually assaulted by the center's executive director, Bruce Biddlecome, in 2014.
Ramsey County District Court Judge David Higgs ruled that the woman is entitled to $8 million in compensatory damages and $8 million in punitive damages following a civil lawsuit against Biddlecome.
The former director of Douglas Place Treatment Center, Biddlecome pleaded guilty to sexual abuse of a vulnerable adult, a gross misdemeanor, in May 2016 after admitting to engaging in sexual acts with a center resident in 2014. He was sentenced to serve five months in jail.
Biddlecome, 43, was initially charged with third-degree criminal sexual conduct by a person in an authority role, a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. That charge was reduced to sexual abuse of a vulnerable adult after a judge ruled Biddlecome was not a counselor for the victim. In Minnesota law, all clients of residential treatment centers are considered vulnerable.
The woman told investigators Biddlecome sexually assaulted her twice when he took her on two different trips to area stores in November and December 2014 while she was a patient at the center, according to a court document.
Both times, Biddlecome demanded she have sex with him and threatened she would go back to where she came from — she understood him to mean jail — if she did not comply, a court document states.
The woman told investigators Biddlecome assaulted her a third time on Christmas Eve 2014 when he went into her room at Douglas Place and said he had come "for an early Christmas present and that it was her," according to a court document.
He admitted to having sex with the victim on Christmas Eve 2014 when pleading guilty to sexual abuse of a vulnerable adult.
The judge noted that the woman was "particularly vulnerable to the abuse of someone like Bruce Biddlecome." Higgs wrote that the "PTSD, depression, and related emotional distress that results from that abuse is significant" and will likely continue through the rest of her life.
Higgs wrote that "breaking the cycle of chemical addition is difficult feat on its own." Coupling that feat with "the memory and trauma of being sexually assaulted and emotionally violated" multiple times by a person of trust will make future rehabilitation efforts more difficult.
"Although the wounds caused by Bruce Biddlecome are not visually apparent, the Court is convinced that they are deep wounds that will cause pain and hardship" for the rest of her life, Higgs wrote.
HIggs wrote that there is "clear and convincing evidence that Bruce Biddlecome acted with deliberate disregard for the right and safety" of the woman.
"Bruce Biddlecome admitted that he knew that sexual contact with vulnerable adults such as (the woman) was unethical, furthermore, as counselor he had been trained specifically about sexual contact with adults and was aware of the risks and consequences of such an action," Higgs wrote. "Despite this knowledge, Bruce Biddlecome coerced and sexually assaulted (the woman.)"
Higgs wrote that Biddlecome knew he was in a position of trust and was aware that the residents of the center had past actions, such as criminal files and probation, that could be used to "coerce and exploit those individuals into providing personal gratification to him." Higgs also noted that Biddlecome was mandated reporter, which meant he knew that he was required to notify the state about actions like his.
"Such conduct is reprehensible and is deserving of punishment. Given Bruce Biddlecome's conduct and his position of power, the Court concludes that above punitive damages are warranted in this case," Higgs ended.
Mark Kosieradzki, an attorney representing the victim, was not available for comment Thursday.