Yakima County, Washington – Damian Garza Cantu sued Yakima County in November of 2016 for damages after someone else’s criminal conviction for third degree rape somehow ended up on his record way back in the mid-1990s. For the last 20 years, Mr. Cantu failed background checks for jobs and housing, but assumed that it was because of a DWI that he’d gotten in 1993. In 2016, he learned that he was erroneously listed as a sex offender because of a rape conviction for one Damian Eduardo Gutierrez Cantu, and sued the county for $800,000.
Rather than go to court, both parties agreed to a settlement which was announced on June 3, 2018 awarding $115,000 to Mr. Cantu. We’re going to assume that, like most settlement agreements of this type, Mr. Cantu will be prohibited in the future from discussing the details of the case, sparing Yakima County from the embarassment of having to explain how something like this happened in the first place.
Like others before him, Mr. Cantu will take the hush money and run, kicking this particular can down the road for the next poor victim to deal with. He can hardly be blamed for coming to such an agreement with Yakima County, though. After all, he’s had just a tiny taste of what sex offenders everywhere have to deal with on a daily basis, many of them for the rest of their lives, and in states with much harsher sex offender laws than Washington. If someone offered to remove me from registry and pay me $115,000 to keep my mouth shut about the indignities and harm my family has suffered as a result of being on the sex offender registry, I wouldn’t have to think twice about accepting the offer.
Here, however, is the crux of the story that will be missed by many. Yakima County would never have agreed to this settlement unless they believed there was a realistic chance of losing this case in court. And by losing, I mean that the court would not only rule against the county, but award substantial damages.
Damages are calculated by the court from quantitative measurements of harm.
Yet, we’re told time and again that being on the sex offender register isn’t punitive and that, while it may be inconvenient and embarassing, it doesn’t actually do anyone any harm. I’m not sure anyone actually believes that load of malarkey, but officials and judges repeat it like the rosary hoping, perhaps, to ward off any “cruel and unusual” judgments from on high. Finally, someone is admitting (although in a round-about way) that being on the sex offender registry causes a person a great deal of harm.
The only question now is, if Mr. Cantu’s experience on the registry is worth $115,000 in damages, then what is a lifetime on it worth?