DEVILS LAKE-It appears a social worker accused of abusing at-risk children at a Devils Lake youth care facility will keep his job after reaching an agreement with the state.
Harmony House employee David Kosmatka has been ordered to complete five ethics hours of continuing education regarding client contact and appropriate boundaries, according to an agreement he signed in May. The settlement was reached after the North Dakota Board of Social Work Examiners received complaints from the mother of a child Kosmatka was allegedly bullying, according to court documents in a separate but related federal court case.
That court case highlights alleged "cruel conduct" by Kosmatka in 2015 and 2016 that was reported to law enforcement and the state Department of Human Services by Katherine Gray, a social worker who was fired last year from Harmony House.
The facility's director, Barry Sundeen, did not give a reason for terminating her employment, but Gray claims it was because she informed Sundeen she reported Kosmatka's alleged behavior to authorities.
A complaint against Sundeen alleging he protected Kosmatka was filed to the Social Work Examiners Board, but a letter dated May 30 to the child's mother said "there are insufficient grounds" Sundeen violated state law. The complaint against him was dismissed.
Kosmatka waived his right to an administrative hearing and appeal after the board found sufficient grounds to support disciplinary action against him. Though there are no promises outside the agreement, it appears Kosmatka will remain employed at Harmony House.
Gray's court filings don't name Kosmatka as a defendant in her case, but they do describe alleged "abusive and threatening behavior," including walking in on children who were dressing or naked, denying them food, verbally bullying them and threatening to kick them out of the facility. The child involved in the complaints was allegedly called "fat" and "lazy," with documents accusing Kosmatka of grabbing the child by the stomach and squeezing the child.
"Kosmatka acknowledged that he 'probably shouldn't have grabbed' but he had known (the child) awhile and could do what he wanted," court documents stated.
The court documents do name Sundeen as a defendant, as well as Devils Lake Public Schools and Lake Region Special Education, Devils Lake Public School Board members, Ramsey County District Court, County State's Attorney Kari Agotness and North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem. Catherine Miller, a Devils Lake teacher, also is listed as a defendant after Gray said Miller made "false statements" about Gray.
At the heart of the case is a gag order prohibiting Gray from talking about Harmony House or contacting its residents, but she claims in court documents the gag order has prevented her from defending herself, costing her a relationship with her father, job opportunities and "mental and emotional anguish and distress," among other things. She is seeking damages.
The defendants have denied the claims and have asked the federal court to dismiss the case. The next court hearing is July 20.
Devils Lake School Superintendent Scott Privratsky deferred questions to the school's attorney, Daniel Gaustad.
"Due to the pending litigation, the only comment from the School District and other parties my firm represents is that they will vigorously defend against the claims and allegations that have been made, all of which are viewed as having no merit," Gaustad told the Herald via email.
Citing the gag order, Gray has said she cannot comment on the case.