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Parents Sue Kansas Sheriff's Office, School District Over Sexual Abuse, 'They Blamed Our Daughter'

Photo Illustration-Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3 (Photo: Kansas DOC)

For more than a year, a sheriff's deputy assigned as a school resource officer (SRO) at a high school in Linn County, Kansas, carried on a "sexual relationship" with a 15-year-old student, sometimes in his office on campus, according to a federal lawsuit.

The two "would sometimes kiss or inappropriately touch while in the school building," the suit alleges.

The sheriff's office, the former SRO, Linn County and the Pleasanton School District are all named as defendants. Former deputy David Allen Huggins is now serving 15 years in prison for three counts of aggravated indecent liberties with a minor after pleading guilty in 2019.

During the criminal investigation, the teenage girl "learned that she was the third female, minor victim of Huggins," the lawsuit says.

Her parents say that is not even the worst.

The lawsuit alleges that the Linn County sheriff at the time, Paul Filla, and the Pleasanton School District knew what was happening and failed to act.

"They all knew what was going on," the girl's father Ryan Swearingen told KCUR. "They blamed it on our daughter having trouble transitioning to a new school."

The lawyer representing the teenager, who is now 18, goes even further. "There was an ongoing, systematic failure" by the school, said Chris Dove. "Absolutely, people were turning a blind eye."

According to the lawsuit, former sheriff Paul Filla eventually called in the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) to investigate Huggins.

The family says many in Pleasanton, a town of just 1,200 people 60 miles south of Kansas City, refused to believe a hometown man would commit such a crime.

"They all knew the story," said mother Jessica Swearingen. "Not one person said I'm sorry."

"People look out for their own," Ryan Swearingen said.

Lawyer Chris Dove said that is not surprising. "It's just this classic thing I see in small towns," he said.

A guy like Huggins, who worked for the La Cygne Police Department before going to the sheriff's office, received what Dove calls "infinite passes."

The lawyers representing the defendants would not comment.

Troubled department

Former Sheriff Filla had other troubles in his office.

The KBI was also called in to investigate Linn County Sheriff Officer John Carr who was arrested for sexually assaulting a co-worker. In September 2018 Carr was arrested and pled guilty to battery following the KBI investigation.

Filla resigned in 2019 and was replaced by current Linn County Sheriff Kevin Friend.

Friend would not discuss how the office was previously run.

"I wasn't here at the time," he told KCUR.

But he says he made some big changes. He instituted a duty to report policy, meaning a deputy must report wrongdoing if they see it.

Friend says he also rewrote the policy book and general orders and he added another layer of supervision by promoting four deputies to sergeants. "There is a lot more supervision now," he said.

As for the Swearingen family in tiny Pleasanton, Kansas, things are still a little rough.

Their younger daughter had to transfer schools to escape harassment. Some teenagers wear tee-shirts with Huggins' mug shot on the front. "It hurts to see that," says Ryan Swearingen. "They don't see how serious this is."

But their oldest daughter seems to be standing tall. "She hasn't let this hold her back," her dad said. Her mission now is to finish college and help others avoid similar pain.

Copyright 2020 KCUR 89.3

Sam grew up in Overland Park and was educated at the University of Kansas. After working in Philadelphia where he covered organized crime, politics and political corruption he moved on to TV news management jobs in Minneapolis and St. Louis. Sam came home in 2013 and covered health care and education at KCPT. He came to work at KCUR in 2014. Sam has a national news and documentary Emmy for an investigation into the federal Bureau of Prisons and how it puts unescorted inmates on Grayhound and Trailways buses to move them to different prisons. Sam has one son and is pretty good in the kitchen.