A Hennepin County jury awarded $13.5 million to a Minnesota family who said their 3-year-old son was beaten and sexually assaulted in 2008 by another boy at a Kids Quest drop-in child care center at the Grand Casino Mille Lacs.

The Kids Quest center at the casino was shut down after the incident, according to the Plymouth-based company.

“It’s unbelievable what happened to him and his family after this, ” said Rich Ruohonen of TSR Injury Law, which represented the family who lives near Brainerd. “It’s tragic. …”When you have a young child who has been hurt this bad, he’s going to have this with him for the rest of his life.”

The jury decided the award on Friday after a two-week trial, the culmination of three-and-a-half years of litigation.

Beth LaBreche, who spoke on behalf of Kids Quest, said the company is considering an appeal and an ethics complaint against the family’s attorneys. “Although investigations at the time of the incident revealed no such extreme behavior could have happened, we immediately took responsibility and action based on the allegation,” the company said in a statement.

Company officials said employees on duty at the center didn’t follow procedure, including walking through play equipment systematically and frequently, and removing children for being overly aggressive or acting inappropriately. The employees were fired and Kids Quest at Grand Casino closed eight days after the incident.

According to the evidence that was presented to the jury, the boy was at the drop-in center in January 2008 when a 9-year-old-boy approached and acted like he was going to be his friend, Ruohonen said. During the next 90 minutes or more the boys were left unsupervised but security cameras captured parts of the assault, he said.

“The child was seriously strangled, beaten and raped, ” Ruohonen said. “The cameras captured [the 9-year-old] punching him in the face, throwing him to the ground, standing over him.”

At one point, the older boy is seen carrying the younger, 33-pound child to the top of a play gym area that included tunnels with slides and an enclosed area at the top, Ruohonen said. It was there where the two were alone for about 35 minutes, he said.

The younger boy, now 10, has permanent post-traumatic stress disorder, Ruohonen said.

“His brain is changed forever, ” he said. “If he sees a boy in a red shirt, he freaks out” because his abuser was wearing a red shirt, Ruohonen said. “He doesn’t like when people are behind him. He’s always hypervigilant in scanning a room and has to have his back to the wall.”

The family’s attorneys told the jury that the boy is now prone to violent outbursts and has serious difficulties regulating his emotions or reacting to everyday stimuli. Medications and therapy have helped but medical experts testified that the boy would never fully heal.

“Finally after seven years, [the boy] has received the justice he deserves, ” Ruohonen said.

 

Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788