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Lawsuit against treatment facility in kidnapping case hung up in court

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/12/2020 10:13:33 PM
Modified: 2/12/2020 10:13:24 PM

BURLINGTON — A negligence lawsuit against the Upper Valley substance abuse recovery facility that treated kidnapping and rape suspect Everett Simpson has stalled as attorneys battle over what evidence the facility should turn over.

Plaintiffs say Bradford, Vt.-based Valley Vista should give them all documents relating to Simpson’s stay at the clinic as well as personnel records of all employees who treated the 41-year-old Simpson and information on patients who have left the facility in the past.

But Valley Vista’s attorneys argue that request is too broad and encroaches on privacy rights.

The disagreement stems from an incident in January 2019, when Simpson, who had been in custody for a separate police pursuit and assault case, made bail and was transferred to Valley Vista for treatment. The next day Simpson left the facility and traveled to Manchester, where he allegedly abducted Celia Roessler and her 4-year-old son, police said. He drove the two to the Upper Valley and raped Roessler in a White River Junction hotel before he was arrested, police said.

As a general practice the Valley News does not normally identify victims of sex crimes, but Roessler came forward to publicly identify herself last spring.

Last March, Roessler filed a civil lawsuit against Valley Vista and the state of Vermont, claiming the facility violated a court order to immediately notify Vermont State Police when Simpson left the facility. Instead, she claimed, they waited for at least 90 minutes, essentially giving Simpson a “head start” on police. She also claimed Valley Vista was understaffed and its employees were poorly trained in handling the situation.

“Roessler has alleged that (her) ordeal is the result of systemic issues at Valley Vista, such as under-training, understaffing and poor care rendered,” Anthony Carr, Roessler’s attorney, wrote in court documents. Valley Vista is owned by Minnesota-based Meridian Behavioral Health, which has 30 locations around the country, including two in Vermont.

Roessler also sued the state of Vermont, saying state police should have issued an arrest warrant as soon as they knew Simpson had left the facility. The state reached a settlement with Roessler’s attorneys in December, agreeing to pay her and her son a total of $400,000.

But in the past 10 months, the suit against Valley Vista has made little headway, instead seeing a flurry of motions from both sides.

A month after the lawsuit, Carr requested Simpson’s “complete file” and assessments he underwent at the facility; documents regarding staffing and training; and documents regarding other patients who have left the facility. He also requested personnel files of all the administrators and staff who had contact with Simpson as well as their texts or emails regarding Simpson.

But the facility’s attorneys pushed back on Carr’s request, even after he filed a motion to compel. In multiple responses and objections filed last year they claimed that many of the documents are irrelevant to the case and that the request is “overly broad” and “unduly burdensome.” They also argued that the patient records and some of the employee records are confidential, though they provided the names of 20 employees and administrators. In many cases, treatment information and identities of patients receiving care at drug abuse facilities are protected by federal law, though they can be released with some court orders.

The facility’s lawyers argued the request for staffing and training documents doesn’t make sense because they are “constant topics of discussion” in a response filed in December.

After Carr filed a second motion to compel, saying Valley Vista has “continued to exhibit the same disregard for obligations imposed by the discovery rules,” Chittenden County Judge Helen Toor granted the motion in part on Jan. 10. She gave Valley Vista until the end of January to respond with staffing documents and information on other patients who had left the facility.

As of Feb. 10, Valley Vista had not submitted the documents. Carr has since filed two more motions to compel.

Valley Vista also has submitted a motion for summary judgment to dismiss the case against them, but Toor denied it in December.

Both Carr and an attorney for Theriault and Joslin, the firm representing Valley Vista, declined to comment on the case Monday.

Simpson, who is currently in custody, faces federal kidnapping charges at a trial in March. Once Simpson’s federal trial is completed, the Windsor County State’s Attorney Office plans to prosecute state charges of kidnapping and sexual assault.

Anna Merriman can be reached at 603-727-3216 or amerriman@vnews.com.




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